Monday, August 29, 2011

North London Looting Continues Unabated

A couple of weeks ago, the Metropolitan Police were held largely culpable for their ineptitude and lack of response to the rioting on the streets of North London. Yesterday the defences (we use the term loosely) of Arsenal and Spurs stood idly by as both halves of Manchester helped themselves to goals in much the same way as the urchins on the streets had helped themselves to flat screen TVs.

The game at White Lane was actually a thoroughly entertaining one and had Spurs offered some protection to their back four it could have made for a far closer match. Indeed had Peter Crouch not spurned an excellent but tough chance at 0-1 it could have made for a pulsating match.

Edin Dzeko was much maligned after his arrival in January but now the focal point of a system that suits him, his ability looks to be without question. Two excellent first half finishes, a poached third and a stunning fourth provided a fantastic return from an excellent all round performance. That being said, the simplicity of the first three goals belied the soft centre that is Spurs' perennial Achilles heel.

There is no doubting the quality of David Silva, Aguero and Nasri but the space they were afforded in their opponents half and the opportunities they were given to run at an unprotected back four showed up the lack of strength in the Spurs midfield. Scott Parker would do much to remedy that situation but the entire lack of mobility of the Spurs central defence is also a huge issue. It is hard to imagine even Jamie Carragher or John Terry allowing Aguero to simply run around them like Dawson did for the fourth goal last night.

For City, there is much to be excited about but issues in defence need to be addressed. It is not City's attacking verve that is causing them to leak goals but rather an Italian induced tendency - Eriksson schooled in that country oft did the same with England - to sit back once a lead is forged that is inviting teams on to them later in matches. For all their pretensions to win trophies, a centre back pairing of Kompany and Lescott looks short on quality also. Nevertheless it was a fabulous performance with the gloomiest faces (next to Old Droopy in charge of Spurs of course) belonged to Tevez, Balotelli, Johnson and Milner all wondering how on earth they will ever get a game.

In Manchester, Arsenal endured complete humiliation after granting Ferguson's rampant side the freedom of Old Trafford. The vultures have been circling over Wenger since the end of last season and there can be no doubt whatsoever that Arsenal are being taken in completely the wrong direction. Even in their darkest days last year, you could not imagine a Liverpool side for instance shipping eight goals to ManYoo. It was an utter disgrace.

Arsenals' teamsheet yesterday included five players on the bench who had not played a single Premiership match. Wenger can complain about injuries and suspensions all he wishes but the strength of the squad is down to him and he with his belligerent refusal to buy new players has left Arsenal bereft of the players needed to challenge for honours, he is guilty of gross mis-mangement.

With the exception of possibly Thomas Vermalen, it is hard to see how yesterday's result would have been altered by returning Arsenal players. They did after all start with Rosicky, Van Persie, Arshavin, Walcott and Ramsey, hardly poor players. It is the character of the side that is severely in question. Having said that, the young Jenkinson at right back looked like a frightened rabbit and the sight of Walcott remonstrating with him conjured images of a teenage school prefect admonishing a first year student.

That Arsenal scored two seemed down to an almost sense of disbelief amongst the Manchester United players as to how bad the opposition were. Indeed had they stopped resorting to trying to walk the ball in to the net in the second half, we could have seen double figures for the first time in the Premiership, Arsenal were that bad.

For the two Manchester clubs, the title already looks like a straight fight between the two unless Chelsea sign some attack minded players with more urgency. Both sides have a huge array of attacking talent but with enough frailty at the back to make the season highly entertaining. For North London, they may be fighting it out for a Europa League spot at best - No Nonsense.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Jose Mourinho

This blog is an unashamed devotee of the Portugeezer but at the same time, it is impossible to allow his increased antics at Real Madrid to go both unchecked and unreported. For all his apparent volatility, there is usually a method to the madness and one must speculate as to what is now really going on now with the Real coach.

Mourinhos' first two seasons at Chelsea were a huge success with Premiership titles in the bag on both occasions and the only blot on the copy book the disappointment of the Champions League clashes with Liverpool. The Summer of '06 however led to the arrival of Shevchenko and Ballack and it was seemingly the beginning of the end of what had been a brief but highly charged lust affair with the Stamford Bridge club.

Seemingly unable or unwilling to fit the apparently unwanted Ukranian forward into his tried and tested 4-3-3 system, Mourinho's behaviour became more and more erratic. This must also be taken into the context of a manager who had accused Barcelona of owning referees, of hiding in laundry baskets and of so dramatically throwing his Premiership medal and jacket into the Stamford Bridge crowd. When Mourinho becomes more erratic it is time to take notice as it oft a precursor to something else.

The following Summer at Stamford Bridge saw the coffers bare and Mourinho began to agitate further. Whilst Mourinho was technically dismissed by Chelsea later that season, there is little doubt that he had done much to engineer the situation to his own design. Mourinho is not a man for all seasons, he is a coach that given the right resources and freedom will give you huge concentrated bursts of success, he felt the winds changing back in favour of Old Trafford and he duly left the building.

No one should ever question Mourinhos' ability as a coach however and at Inter he duly shone again admittedly aided by an AC Milan team still recovering from the match fixing scandal and a Juventus team nowhere close to their previous incarnations for the same reason.

That being said the treble he achieved in his final season was nothing short of miraculous given his semi final backs to the wall victory over Guardiolas' immense Barca side. Again however Mourinho was already engineering his exit, what else could be achieved at Inter after all? He knew his chances of repeating that success were probably non existent. Despite being under contract, Mourinho manipulated the situation to such a huge extent that the whole world felt it a travesty that Inter would not simply let him walk away and join Real Madrid as he wished.

Joining Madrid was and is the biggest challenge so far of Mourinhos' career. Real demand instant and stylised success and though having a superb squad and a vast resources at his disposal, Mourinho is up against once of the truly great club sides of all time in Pep Guardiolas' Barcelona.

Madrid did little wrong last year scoring 92 points in the league, a total which would have seen them win the Premiership, Serie A, the Bundesliga or Ligue Une, indeed very few score 90 points and don't win. Losing to Barca in the Champions League semi was no disgrace either but the manner of the defeats was starting to change in terms of the animosity that was building between the clubs.

Real Madrid, possibly due to their recent incredible spending when they signed Ronaldo, Kaka, Benzema and Xavi Alonso as well as adding the talents of Ozil and Khedira have possibly led to a more considered approach this Summer and reinforcements have not been forthcoming.

Barcelona however have signed Alexis Sanchez and Cesc Fabregas to compliment an already almost unbeatable team. Reals' chances of overcoming this Barcelona team would seem little better than last seasons' and Mourinho, highly intelligent man that he is may already be planning his exit strategy.

The recent Spanish Super Cup clash has done little to quell the bad feeling and there are increasing noises from within the Bernabeu that Mourinhos' behaviour is becoming unacceptable. His open letter to the fans this week further dramatised the situation and the bad feeling toward him from Catalonia is bordering on open hatred.

Should Mourinho leave Madrid, there would be little shortage of suitors but he may find that ManYoo, his openly suggested preferred destination have little time for his high profile tantrums even when Sir Alex finally retires. Manchester City should Mancini fail to secure the title this season would seem a more logical destination as his abilities to manage a large squad are renowned. Jose may well end up staying at Real this season but it would seem only a matter before football's most famous hired gun moves on to the next destination on his meticulously pre planned career route - No Nonsense.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

4-0 to the Engerland.........

So what was mooted as a close contest turned into a one sided whitewash as England enjoyed their coronation as the World's No1 Test team in both glorious and ruthless style. For India there is almost nothing that can be taken from the series and the most worrying question for all Test Cricket lovers is do the Indian Cricket Board and many of the team actually care?

On many levels it is hard for English cricket fans to comprehend their team currently sitting at the pinnacle of the sport, such has been the generation length periods of mediocrity with only flashes of previous success. It is also hard to ascertain just how good this team actually might be given the penchant for playing everything down, for talking about the opposition being tired and injured, of the conditions being in England's favour, the list goes on.

What is for sure is that if it had been McGrath, Gillespie and Warne ripping through the India batting line up and Hayden, Ponting, Waugh and Martyn smashing the ball to all parts the talk would have been of what great players they are, the best in the World end of story. Substitute Anderson, Broad, Swann, Cook, Trott, Pietersen and Bell and the talk circles to almost finding excuses for their excelling. Gilchrist was often talked of as a game changer yet Matt Prior is doing the exactly the same at no7 for this England team as well as enjoying fantastic glove work.

In the likes of especially McGrath, Warne and Gilchrist we are of course talking about the all time greats and about players who did it over a vast amount of years. The point is not to suggest that the England players are necessarily at that level yet but that they are deserving of the plaudits and actually are as good as their statistics and rankings suggest - and that no one should be apologising for it.

One commentator suggested that so many runs are scored nowadays because of the lack of good bowling, there is no Ambrose, Walsh, Donald, Pollock, McGrath, Gillespie, Warne, Akram, Waqar, the list goes on but as oft is the case there is always romanticising of the past. It is true that the West Indies in particular have gone in to a steep decline but with the likes of the bowling talent in the current England team, Zaheer Khan, Harbajhan, Malinga, Vettori, the only just retired Murali and the outstanding South African pair of Steyn and Morkel there is still considerable world class bowling talent out there.

England however are not the finished article and the batting lineup is at the least one short. Eoin Morgans' technique looks suspect against high class seam bowling which at test level he will come up against especially against South Africa. Bopara also is simply not good enough and England must find some further young batting talent in the middle order as well as finding an option at opener to keep the pressure on Strauss in particular to score runs. The South African attack will not be so forgiving should the likes of Trott get injured again.

The seam attack options are superlative with Tremlett and Finn waiting in the wings but a genuine back up to Swann needs to be found now that Monty's star has seemingly fallen and given that his fielding is simply not up to modern day standards.

England, the likes of Flintoff and Harmison having moved on will this time hopefully not fall in to the trap of 2005, writing books and accepting medals and all thinking 'we've done it'. Andy Flower and Andrew Strauss must drive home the message that this is only the beginning and the success can be built on and they surely will.

For India, this has been a debacle from start to finish. Their calendar ensured they showed up late with little time for practise. With the exception of the truly remarkable Rahul Dravid, their batting line up was undercooked for the entire series. Their bowlers, shorn of their spearhead in Zaheer and their best spin option in Harbajhan offered little in the way of hope as their inability to bowl England out even once in an innings never mind twice showed so painfully.

When World No1s in any sport are beaten, it is usually by a fractional margin and certainly not to the degree of it not being a contest, that being the case there has to be another factor at work.

India will indeed point to fatigue and injuries but the reality is that it is India's unquenchable thirst for cricket on its' own shores that is causing these problems. The introduction of the IPL has been a wonderful one but with both it and the Champions League in the International calendar, there is simply no time for their players to rest.

The other issue at hand for India is that by playing so many T20 and OD Internationals, the skill set required for playing test cricket is gradually eroded and it was clear to see for all during this series. The likes of VVS and MS Dhoni continually got out playing shots with an open face. They were limited overs shots, not for a test field with a slip cordon. Sreesanth and Sharma bowled decent spells but couldn't replicate it two or three times in an innings as is required in a Test Match.

The talent of this current India team is without question and indeed their batting lineup contains some all time greats and possibly the all time great. The question is whether Test Cricket has a long term future in India and whether the Indian Cricket Board wishes to put the time, effort and most importantly emphasis on the longer format of the game or simply follow the quicker and far richer short formats.

Accordingly, India will give England a far greater fight in the OD Internationals and one T20 that will follow, indeed they may well win most of them. After all India have only just recently won the World Cup in such magnificent fashion and are the best one day team in the World, the question is whether it is all coming at the expense of the long term future of Test Cricket - No Nonsense.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Premiership Weekend, what have we learned?

It is obviously early days in the new season but the weekend has thrown up some interesting points, some recurring and some new ones.

Whilst watching Arsenal, what struck this blog wasn't the poor performance (there have been many by Arsenal in recent seasons) but more the entire lack of quality which is not something you would usually associate with that team. When looking through their side there are very few players who you sense that the opposition would respect or fear.

It seems to many ludicrous to call for Wenger to go but the reality is that under him Arsenal are in serious decline and are a million miles away from the likes of Adams, Henry, Bergkamp, Vieira, Keown, Pires, Seaman the list goes on. He cut a forlorn figure in the pouring rain recalling the misery of McLaren at the end of his England reign under that now famous umbrella-ella-ella.

People keep calling for time and patience when it comes to nurturing young players but the reality is after six trophy-less seasons they are further away from the Premiership or the Champions League than ever. Ferguson has consistently brought through young players and still remained successful whereas Arsenal it appears are merely grooming them for others.

There is a much romanticised view of Arsene Wenger and he has indeed done a vast amount of good for Arsenal. Many years ago however, Nottingham Forest fans would have never envisaged a scenario where the great Brian Clough became a hindrance to the club in the way he was toward the end. To compete for the top players, it is top four or nothing these days and Arsenal's seat at the Champions League table looks in great peril. Should they go out to Udinese - we suspect they will qualify comfortably however - then the vultures will truly be circling.

Liverpool look much improved from twelve months ago but they still lack the genuine quality to challenge for the title. In the likes of Suarez and Reina and the soon to return Gerrard they have genuine class and there is much hope that the new arrivals of Carroll, Adam and Downing can enhance their performances further, certainly Carroll does not yet look up to full speed. If Liverpool can achieve a Champions League berth they can build further on this improvement but having the resources to win the league in the next few seasons may still be beyond them.

Even with the purchases of Torres and Luiz, Chelsea are a team in decline and unless further creative and energetic reinforcements are found they can finish no higher than third. They were atrocious against West Brom in the first half with seemingly no idea how to break down a well organised side. Juan Mata will provide some impetus but if he is signed at the expensive of also purchasing Modric then the big trophies will elude them this season.

For West Brom, opening fixtures against ManYoo and Chelsea have unsurprisingly yielded no points but there is plenty to take heart from. They look well organised and appear to have found a striker that can score goals at the highest level which is a valuable commodity in the Premiership, they should have a good season.
Manchester City look a side with a purpose this season. They have a squad that only Barcelona and Real Madrid can match and they have glittering options in attack. One of the most interesting features has been that Edin Dzeko has started to find his feet and he may provide a huge bonus alongside the more obvious talents of Aguero and Tevez. If Mancini can tighten up the defence and keep the peace amongst a dressing room that has proven toxic so often they can provide a serious argument for the title.

Everton should have two managers, anyone else you could think of up until Christmas and then Davie Moyes come January. Their traditional poor start seems to be happening again and with a threadbare squad it will be another hard season.

Not too much should be read into Aston Villa's performance, bright though that it was. Agbonlahor frequently starts a season well before fading and Heskey should now be rested for the remainder of the campaign as he has now scored his quota for the season. Blackburn provided truly dire opposition but nevertheless it will be a welcome start for Big Eck in the Villa Park hot seat.

Wolves bought well over the Summer and have achieved back to back wins to open their Premiership account. If they can keep some level of momentum then mid table could be a realistic target for the Molineux men although there is much hard work ahead.

The Tyne Wear derby was its usual self, ferocious and short on quality but with a result that may have surprised many given the relative Summer transfer activity for the two sides. Newcastle have had an excellent start to their campaign whilst Sunderland again flatter to deceive.

ManYoo welcome Spurs tonight to Old Trafford in a clash that should lead to Ferguson's men obtaining maximum points from their opening two fixtures. Much focus will be on the performance of David De Gea in goal as another nervy performance will only increase the focus on the young keeper. Should De Gea settle in then the signs for the pretenders to their crown are already ominous. For Spurs, it will be interesting to see if Luca Modric plays. If he does he should stay for this season, if he does not he may well be on his way to Stamford Bridge.

For those expected to be at the bottom of the table, Norwich threw away a precious three points and Swansea and Wigan failed to excite anyone in Wales. At QPR, much of the opening day doom has been lifted with a fine away win and a new owner installed. Warnock however, like Keegan, Brian Robson, Coppell and Mick McCarthy remains a fine Championship manager but a mediocre Premiership one and reinforcements are still required - No Nonsense.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Turbulent Times at the Emirates

Arsene Wenger it seems has finally admitted defeat in his attempts to make Samir Nasri and their talisman Cesc Fabregas stay at the club. Whilst Arsenal will feel that they have achieved good business in terms of the prices they will obtain for both players, poor planning in the transfer market has again hampered the North London club.

Last summer, Barcelona were prepared to pay much closer to the 40M that Arsenal would now so readily accept, had they done so they could have re-invested the money earlier and saved the wages of a clearly disaffected player. The same mistake was made with Patrick Vieira when Real Madrid's millions were rejected before accepting a far lesser fee from Juventus the following summer. The money could have been used to renew and improve Nasri's contract also thus meaning their hand would not have been forced so this Summer. Walcott and Van Persie will be in the same position next summer as they have both entered the final two years of their contracts with seemingly little reason to want to sign an extension.

Nasri is possibly not a huge loss as his value appears to be derived from one good half of one full season with City apparently paying a largely inflated price and even bigger wages when they already have the excellent David Silva in Nasri's favoured central role.

Fabregas is effectively irreplaceable for a club of Arsenal's current means but in the youthful pair of Jack Wilshire and the under rated Aaron Ramsey, they do have excellent creative and attacking options already in central midfield. What remains to be seen is how the likes of Van Persie react to seeing their captain and one of their leading lights leave on the eve of the new season and whether and how the money is reinvested in the squad.

The problem with receiving large transfer fees is the clubs you try to buy your replacements from want their share of the loot in the same way that Newcastle prised 35M out of Liverpool for Andy Carroll knowing they were flush from the 50M they received for Fernando Torres. Wenger is notorious for low balling for players and if he feels the fees are too large he will simply sit at home and count the money instead.

Despite losing such potent attacking talent, Arsenal are not short of attacking options and as everyone has written about ad tedium, what is required is some solidity and steel at the back. Options such as Phil Jaglieka, Gary Cahill and Scott Dann have been discussed but little headway has been made. Arsenal have already spent around 26M on Gervinho and Oxlade-Chamberlain but neither would be expected to pull up too many trees in their first season. Arsenal are also in dire need of a goalkeeper but everybody knows they will not even try to sign one.

Whilst there is always the chance of another false dawn at Anfield, a far stronger challenge from Dalglish's men should be expected this season and Arsenal's Champions League status could be in real jeopardy as the top three places look to already be tied up by Chelsea and the two Manchester sides.

With only three weeks to go before the transfer window closes and with a potentially tricky Champions League qualifier against Udinese to tackle and an early crunch fixture against the Anfield side, Wenger faces one of the most crucial months of his time at Arsenal. Many felt or still do that Wenger has a job for life at Arsenal but the natives could become restless if reinforcements are not found and this time not just about the cost of season ticket prices - No Nonsense.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

England Versus India, the scorecard so far.

Two nil up and seemingly cruising, things are looking extremely rosey for England and their immediate target of becoming the World's number one test side. Indeed, should England secure victory at Edgbaston next week they will achieve that feat with the Oval test remaining. England will start as strong favourites given the events at Lords and Trent Bridge but it may well be the case that the gap between the sides is not quite as large as the results suggest. What is clear however is that India have to show far greater application and desire should they wish to turn this series around.

India enjoyed the best of the bowling conditions on the first day and had England at 88/6 for and then 124/8 before letting England off the hook as Swann and the excellent Broad launched a counter attack. India still managed to secure a 67 run lead which on the Nottingham surface looked a priceless one, indeed had it not been for an inspired period of bowling from Broad that included a hat trick, India may have already had a match winning lead. What transpired during day three however was symptomatic of the series so far as India capitulated in the face of some dogged England batting, the depth of which currently is hugely impressive. Within a day, India had gone from a position where they should have won the game to one where they could only try to avoid defeat.

India have suffered for not taking sufficient cover for the injured Sehwag and with Zaheer injured and Harbajhan rendered ineffective so far on the prepared pitches the bowling has toiled with the seamers having to put down a huge amount of overs. There is undoubted talent but the body language in the field belies a team that looks tired and wants to be somewhere else warmer and with better food.

For the Indian players, the riches and adulation that come with their position have come at a cost. The World Cup, the IPL and a series in the Caribbean have all come prior to their arrival in England. Typical English weather coupled with typical English pictures are not usually to the liking of sub continent tourists and this is proving the case again. The likes of Yuvraj are unquestionably players of huge talent but against a seaming ball and sharp bounce, their batsmen look uncomfortable despite the undisputed class always shown by Sachin, Dravid and VVS. It may also be the reality nowadays that with the riches of the IPL and the recent crowning as World champions that test cricket is not the priority anymore as sad as that would be to admit.

Superficially for England there seems little to be concerned about. Runs are flowing and the attack is firing on all cylinders. The openers are not firing however and whilst Cook can be allowed a lean spell after his previous heroics, Strauss is becoming in genuine need of some runs and a big score at Edgbaston would be most welcome. Trott, Pietersen and Bell appear solid but Morgan's place must be questioned as despite his runs in the second innings he like Yuvraj looks shaky against quality seam bowling. His runs came easily on Sunday against the old ball but he was out quickly once the new ball arrived. With Broad, Bresnan and Prior in such good form with the bat it could be argued to drop him to allow the return of Tremlett. An alternative long term solution at six may have to be found however.

The other option to accommodate Tremlett without losing any of the excellent Bresnan, Broad or Anderson would be to give Swann a rest at Edgbaston should the conditions be seam friendly again. He has done little to trouble the Indian batsman so far and a break before returning for the Oval where spin has so often played a large part may not be the worst option for England.

England have their tails up and quite rightly so but it would be folly to think that a team as talented as India is already beaten. The Indian dressing room abounds with leaders such as Dhoni the captain, Sachin, Dravid, Sehwag and Zaheer and from that perspective it must be difficult for Duncan Fletcher to exert much influence over such players that require little coaching. To pick them up for the third test however, the Zimbabwean must find a way to do so or their number one test status is in extreme peril - No Nonsense.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Premiership Predictions

The new season is nearly upon us so it is time for this blog to make some bold predictions as to the finishing places for the coming season and the rationale behind it. As the transfer window is still open, this may be tweaked in the coming weeks if any major signings subsequently occur.

Champions, ManYoo. Without a major tournament this summer, aching limbs will have been soothed for those such as Rooney, Ferdinand, Evra and Vidic. The further arrival of some young prime talent will supplement an already excellent squad. Much may depend on how their new Spanish goalkeeper settles in and they still look short of quality in the middle of the park (Wesley Sneijder would be an excellent addition should they move for him). They should however be too good for the rest,

Runners Up, Manchester City. The noisy neighbours should post a real title challenge this season having kept Mancini and avoided major upheaval to their squad this Summer. Aguero adds yet more class up front and if David Silva improves on his excellent debut season they will be a real force.

3rd, Chelsea. Little has been done to address their ageing squad in the short term and without the arrival of much needed creativity in midfield, many of last seasons' issues will re-emerge. Luiz and Torres should be better for having bedded in last season but Essien's long term prospects look a huge concern. Luca Modric would do much to enhance their prospects.

4th, Arsenal. It will be another long season for the Gunners with little true hope of winning the title and constant looking over their shoulders at those coveting their Champions League status. Whether Fabregas stays or goes may have little bearing as he seems disillusioned about staying and should they sell him, it is unlikely they can replace him with the same quality. The jury is definitely out on Gervinho who looks much more Chamakh than Henry from first impressions.

5th, Liverpool. The Anfield side are still a long way short on quality but have made some decent additions to the squad and narrowly missed out on 5th place last year despite their appalling first half of the season. Stuart Downing is no Marc Overmars but his and Adam's delivery in to the box for Andy Carroll will be crucial. Depending on theirs and Arsenal's transfer activity between now and Sep 1st, they may make a push for 4th place.

6th, Spurs. Finishing 6th will be no disgrace for the club, they are hamstrung by a small ground and a lack of income. Predictably Redknapp will complain bitterly all season about the riches of those clubs above him. He will be comforted when he resigns in the Summer to take over the England team after they get knocked out of the European Championship on penalties to much gnashing of teeth. They would do well to sell the unhappy Modric and invest the money in quality at centre half and up front. Van Der Vaart can easily fill his role.

7th, Sunderland. This blog is not a particular fan of Steve Bruce but having survived the sale of Darren Bent, the additions of O'Shea and Brown at the back will add some much needed know how, if their other new signings bed in and they avoid their usual mid season collapse, it could be a proud season for the Wearsiders.

8th, Everton. David Moyes has done an excellent job at Everton but with a threadbare squad and a predictable appaling start to every season, they cannot keep expecting to challenge for Europe every season. Another top half finish but little else.

9th, Aston Villa. Another season of mediocrity beckons for a club that has seemingly reached its' own level. The twin losses of Downing and Young will be felt but the purchase of N'Zogbia should be a good one. Given will prove a good piece of business although it will be tough to better the job that Friedel had done. McLeish will endure a rough ride from the Holt End should he get off to a sticky start. It will not be a happy season.

10th, Stoke City. Last season was an excellent one for their fans with their fantastic run to the FA Cup final. This however did prove a distraction as their late season league form fell away. There remains that danger with the UEFA Cup this season but with a lack of quality around them, they should be good enough for a top half finish this time around.

11th. Fulham. With Mark Hughes having voluntarily jettisoned himself into managerial oblivion, Martin Jol will take on the job at the Cottage with little chance of improving on last year's finish.

12th, Bolton. Owen Coyle continues the tradition of management excellence hailing from Glasgow. If Coyle can motivate and rejuvenate Reo Coker, he may be a very shrewd acquisition. A couple of decent loan signings this coming month and we could well see them improve on last year's 14th place finish.

13th, Wolves. A bold prediction possibly but they were only 6 points from this position last season and have invested well with the acquisition of Roger Johnson from Birmingham. Goals as ever will be a problem for the Molineux men and finding a way to integrate Fletcher into the side along the side the non scoring but otherwise excellent Hunt could be key. There is some confidence starting to emanate from McCarthy who is possibly finally and belatedly finding his feet in the Premiership.

14th, West Brom. Nothing of note in the transfer market but the managerial nous of Roy Hodgson will ensure another season of Premiership football for the Baggies.

15th, Newcastle. There is nothing to suggest that the core of this club is anything other than rotten. Club captain Kevin Nolan was sold to West Ham and Joey Barton has been staggeringly released on a free transfer. The money from the Andy Carroll sale has not resurfaced with a trio of French speakers the only replacements. Alan Pardew offers only cronyism with Mike Ashley and certainly little inspiration in the dugout. Relegation is not out of the question and in Ashley's case much deserved.

16th, Blackburn. Venkys the owners have offered Steve Kean nothing in terms of funds despite repeated comments about Champions League football. Should they lose Samba before the end of the transfer window, survival could be tough especially if they continue to insist on his monthly visits to Pune.

17th, Norwich. A bright young manager and a fairly busy summer of transfer activity means that the Carrow Road side could achieve their minimum of Premiership survival. Home form for the Canaries will be crucial if they are indeed to stay up.

18th (R), Wigan. Having survived by the skin of their teeth last season, investment was required this Summer. Instead there has been none and their best player Charles N'Zogbia has been sold. Martinez remains hugely likeable but that will not be enough to keep them in the division.

19th (R), QPR. A sad prediction for the supposedly richest club in the world but with an utter lack of investment and a manager with a decidedly chequered record in the Premiership little else can be predicted. Warnock enjoys a prickly relationship at best with the board and could be a good each way bet for the first Premiership managerial casualty, the Loftus Road faithful will be back to paying less again for their season tickets come next Summer.

20th (R), Swansea. Police forces all over the country will give a collective sigh of relief when the Welsh side are dispatched back to whence they came. Nowhere near enough quality for this division.