Sunday, July 29, 2007

Premier League Preview: Part Two

So here it is, part two of my Premier League preview. No need for introductions, let's get right to it.

10. West Ham United

Additions: Scott Parker (Newcastle), Julien Faubert (Bordeaux), Richard Wright (Everton), Craig Bellamy (Liverpool), Freddie Ljungberg (Arsenal).

Losses: Paul Konchesky (Fulham), Nigel Reo-Coker (Aston Villa), Tyrone Mears (Derby), Yossi Benayoun (Liverpool), Marlon Harewood (Aston Villa)

Some may question my placing West Ham this high, but if they keep Carlos Tevez, they’ll be up here come May. If Tevez does end up going to Manchester United, then scrap this ranking and put them at 14th or 15th. Besides Tevez, the most important player for the Hammers is Robert Green. Green singled handedly kept Arsenal and Manchester United from scoring in two games during the stretch run at the end that kept West Ham in the Premier League. Besides Tevez, the Hammers have Craig Bellamy and Bobby Zamora, who would make for a decent attacking pair. New signings Scott Parker, Julien Faubert, and Freddie Ljungberg will make for an exciting midfield. Injuries could be a concern for West Ham, as Faubert and Parker are currently injured and Ljungberg was injured much of last season. Luis Boa Morte adds a scoring punch on the wing. Defense needs more production from troubled talent Anton Ferdinand, but Lucas Neill and Matthew Upson are both solid. Like I said earlier, if Tevez makes his reported 30 million pound move to Man U, just forget everything I just said. Blackburn, Aston Villa, and Reading are two teams I would certainly place above a Tevez-free WHU.

9. Bolton

Additions: Gavin McCann (Aston Villa), Jlloyd Samuel (Aston Villa), Gerald Cid (Bordeaux), Blerim Dzemaili (FC Zurich), Zoltan Harsanyi (FC Senec), Danny Guthrie (Liverpool, season-long loan), Mikel Alonso (Real Socieded)

Losses: Tal Ben Haim (Chelsea), Henrik Pedersen (released), Quinton Fortune (released), David Thompson (released), Cesar Martin (released)

Bolton is another squad that could plummet in the rankings if their highly regarded striker ditches them for a Champions League team. Nicolas Anelka has been linked everywhere from a return moves to Arsenal or Real Madrid, or a switch to recovering powerhouse Juventus. Bolton’s chances of gaining a UEFA Cup spot will rely heavily on whether or not Anelka will commit to the club. Kevin Davies and El-Hadji Diouf are reliable in a supporting role, but neither could carry the scoring load. The strength of Bolton’s squad lies in their midfield led by the captain, Kevin Nolan. Supporting Nolan are veterans Ivan Campo, Gary Speed, and new signee Gavin McCann. Although they may be getting up there in age, these guys allow Bolton to control the pace of the game. The defense was hurt by the loss of Israeli international Tal Ben Haim, but Nicky Hunt, Abdoulaye Meite, and Abdoulaye Faye are solid contributors. Look for Bolton to fall somewhat off their pace from last season, but if Anelka stays, this squad will still be in the running for a UEFA Cup spot in the spring. If Anelka leaves…well, for Bolton’s sake, let’s hope he doesn’t leave.

8. Everton

Additions: Phil Jagielka (Sheffield Utd)

Losses: Gary Naysmith (Sheffield United), Richard Wright (West Ham), Alessandro Pistone (released), Scott Phelan (Bradford)

Although Everton was largely inactive in the transfer market this summer, but the one move they made is my favorite of the offseason. Phil Jagielka was the most underrated player in the Premier League last year, and now he will get to showcase his talents for a contender. Extremely versatile, Jagielka can play at any position on the back line, midfield, and even goalkeeper. His brightest moment of last season came when he was forced to play goalie against Arsenal and kept a clean sheet. Joleon Lescott and Joseph Yobo are both very capable defenders. If they can recover successfully from injury, then Tony Hibbert and Nuno Valente will be in the fold as well. Tim Cahill and Mikel Arteta are great in the midfield, and they provide a much needed scoring punch. The true star of the squad is striker Andy Johnson. Despite claims that he is a diver, Johnson is one of the best strikers in the EPL and should be a mainstay on the England squad for years to come. James Vaughan and Victor Anichebe are very talented, young forwards that will make an impact this season. Everton has a nice mixture of old and new talent, which should propel them to the cusp of a cup berth.

7. Newcastle United

Additions: Mark Viduka (Middlesbrough), Joey Barton (Man City), David Rozehnal (Paris St Germain), Geremi (Chelsea).

Losses: Scott Parker (West Ham), Titus Bramble (Wigan), Antoine Sibierski (Wigan), Craig Moore (released), Olivier Bernard (released), Alan O'Brien (undisclosed).

Unlike all the hype that surrounds a squad like Manchester City, this is a team that is going placing. New manager Sam Allardyce brings instant credibility to the club, and new signings Mark Viduka, Joey Barton, and Geremi are very capable players. The attacking trio of Obafemi Martins, Michael Owen, and Viduka may be the best in the Premier League. Martins, who reportedly garnered interest from Arsenal, is still very young and will most assuredly improve on his 17 goal tally from last season. If Owen is healthy, then he is a mortal lock for double digit goals, and Viduka was the fourth leading scorer in the EPL last season. Joey Barton, if he puts his past behind him, could be a star in the midfield. Despite the fact he has gained many enemies for his alleged racist comments, Emre is another very good player in the midfield. The defense should be aided by the addition of Chelsea cast-away Geremi, who never quite found his groove with the Blues. Steven Taylor and Stephen Carr are also names to watch on the back line. This team is poised to keep climbing up the EPL table, and may in the near future crash the Big Four’s reign on the Championship League spots.

6. Portsmouth

Additions: David Nugent (Preston), John Utaka (Rennes), Arnold Mvuemba (Rennes), Sulley Muntari (Udinese), Sylvain Distin (Manchester City), Hermann Hreidarsson (Charlton), Martin Cranie (Southampton)

Losses: Svetoslav Todorov (Charlton), Daryl Fordyce (released)

After finishing 9th last season, Portsmouth are ready to move into a UEFA Cup slot. This club is arguably the most experienced team in the Premier League, boasting experienced veterans such as David James, Sylvain Distin, Sol Campbell, Lauren, Dejan Stefanovic, Linvoy Primus, and Pedro Mendes. There strength is undoubtedly there defense. With James in goal and a back line that gets to pick from the likes of Distin, Campbell, Stefanovic, Lauren, and Primus, you know goals are going to come at a premium for opposing squads. Mendes, Richard Hughes, Matthew Taylor, and Niko Kranjcar make for an exciting midfield. New signing Arnold Mvuemba is a talent to watch in upcoming years. The forward position is uncertain as of right now, but David Nugent, who was the first forward from a non-top flight league to play for England since 1999, will have to live up to the hype in order for Pompey to achieve success. Nwankwo Kanu is currently out of a contract, but if he were to return, he would provide a major scoring boost. If he doesn’t return, look for Benjani Mwaruwari or LuaLua to start with Nugent. Time is running out on this aging team, so it is important for Harry Redknapp to succeed while he still can. If they had a more reliable striking corps, I would be tempted to place them in the top five, perhaps the top four, but as it is they will fall just short of that mark.

5. Tottenham Hotspur

Additions: Gareth Bale (Southampton), Adel Taarabt (Lens), Yuri Berchiche (Athletic Bilbao), Darren Bent (Charlton), Younes Kaboul (Auxerre).

Losses: Emil Hallfredsson (Lyn-Oslo), Reto Ziegler (Sampdoria), Mark Yeates (Colchester)

So much has been made of late about the dominance of the “Big Four,” but if one team were to break that dominance, who would it be? The obvious choice is Tottenham Hotspur. What’s not to love about this team? They have a great group of strikers, a young, talented midfield, a rapidly improving defense, and England’s starting goalkeeper. If I had any guts at all, I’d put them in the top four, but I don’t…not yet at least. Let’s start with strength of the squad: the strikers. Dimitar Berbatov is one of the best strikers in the Premier League. Follow that up with Robbie Keane, Darren Bent, Jermain Defoe, and Mido and you’ve got yourself quite a group. Mido is almost certain to leave, but it looks like Defoe will stay with the Spurs for at least the first part of the season. Although I’m not a big fan of the Bent purchase (or at least the price of it), but he has shown great promise at past stops at Charlton and Ipswich Town. The midfield is headlined by future superstars in Aaron Lennon and Jermaine Jenas. Both should be a mainstay on the England side for years to come. The backline, which has been the Achilles’ heel for Tottenham in recent years, has been aided by the additions of Younes Kaboul and Gareth Bale, two highly rated young defenders. Michael Dawson is another young defender that keeps getting better and better. Pascal Chimbonda and Ledley King (when healthy) are both solid contributors and provide much needed leadership on a very young squad. The future looks very bright for Martin Jol’s club, and do not be surprised if it is sooner rather than later when the Spurs break into the top four.

4. Liverpool

Additions: Andrey Voronin (Bayer Leverkusen), Kristian Nemeth & Andras Simon (both MTK Hungariam), Nikolay Mihaylov (Levski Sofia), Fernando Torres (Atletico Madrid), Yossi Benayoun (West Ham), Ryan Babel (Ajax), Lucas Leiva (Gremio)

Losses: Bolo Zenden (Marseille), Robbie Fowler (Cardiff), Florent Sinama Pongolle (Recreativo Huelva), Danny Guthrie (Bolton), Luis Garcia (Atletico Madrid), Craig Bellamy (West Ham), Djibril Cisse (Marseille), Jerzy Dudek (Real Madrid)

No team has bought and sold as many players as Liverpool has this offseason. While the future looks bright for the Reds, the wholesale changes may hurt them in the short term. In no other sport is the partnership and communication between players as important as it is in soccer. If the Reds get off to a slow start (which by the way I think they will) they may put themselves into a situation they can’t get out of. Of all their summer signings, Andrey Voronin seems to be the one most likely to make an impact this season. Fernando Torres, their most expensive signing, is young and talented, but may take time to adjust to Premier League football. Up front, Dirk Kuyt and Peter Crouch are leftovers from last season’s squad, but Crouch seems to be the odd man out of this quartet. Ryan Babel is a very talented youngster, but I honestly don’t know where he fits in the immediate future of this squad. He can play up front or on the wing, but he is buried on the depth chart at both positions. The midfield is led by skipper Steven Gerrard, one of the best players in the world. The rest of the midfield positions are up for grabs with Jermaine Pennant, Xabi Alonso, Yossi Benayoun, Javier Mascherano, Momo Sissoko, and Harry Kewell all fighting for a spot. Mascherano was particularly impressive in the Champions League final against AC Milan. Lucas Leiva, acquired from Gremio, is the captain of Brazil’s U-20 squad and is an exciting prospect. The Liverpool defense is solid, led by Jamie Carragher, Sami Hyppia, Steve Finnan, John Arne Riise, and Daniel Agger. Riise is a versatile player that is a goal scoring threat whenever he pushes forward. If he unleashes from long range, watch out, because he has an absolute cannon of a leg. Pepe Reina is great in goal, and is especially adept in saving penalties. Call me crazy, but I think it will take a few weeks for the Reds to mesh their many talented pieces. By that time, it will be too late.

3. Arsenal

Additions: Bacary Sagna (Auxerre), Lukasz Fabianski (Legia Warsaw), Eduardo da Silva (Dinamo Zagreb), Havard Nordtveit (FK Haugesund)

Losses: Jeremie Aliadiere (Middlesbrough), Fabrice Muamba (Birmingham), Mart Poom (Watford), Arturo Lupoli (Fiorentina), Thierry Henry (Barcelona), Freddie Ljungberg (West Ham)

If pure talent transferred into championships, Arsenal would be far and away the winner’s of the league this year. No other team in the Premier League has as much young talent as they do. However the one thing they do lack is experience and that will keep them from winning the league this season. One might point to the departures of Arsenal stalwarts Thierry Henry and Freddie Ljungberg as signs of Arsenal’s imminent demise in the Premier League table. The fact is, Ljungberg had lost his spot in the starting XI and obviously didn’t enjoy the impending lack of playing time. Henry was also another player who was past his prime, and Wenger wanted to get as much value for him as he could. Don’t get me wrong, Henry is still a GREAT player, but he had begun the gradual decline that all players go through as they age. Even without Henry (and a whole bunch of other players) for much of the year, Arsenal still had 7 victories over the rest of the top five in Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, and Tottenham while suffering only 2 defeats and 4 draws. With more consistency this season, the Gunners will be able to make a run for the top of the table. Arsenal are stacked in goal with veterans Jens Lehmann and Manuel Almunia fighting off newcomer Lukasz Fabianski for playing time. The defense, which had its lapses last season, will be strengthened by new signee Bacary Sagna and a healthy William Gallas. Gael Clichy is a young talent to watch, as he made the loss of Ashley Cole almost non-existant during last season. The midfield is led by 20-year old superstar Cesc Fabregas. Skipper Gilberto is another mainstay, and Abou Diaby, Tomas Rosicky, Alexander Hleb, Denilson, and Matthew Flamini will all see significant playing time. One player that seems destined to explode this year is Theo Walcott who will for the most part play on the wing this season, although he may see time at striker as well. The striker corps will be lead by Robin van Persie who was Arsenal’s leading scorer last season before he got injured. Emmanuel Adebayor and Nicklas Bendtner are also going to see plenty of action up front. New signing Eduardo Da Silva has been a prodigious scorer of goals everywhere he has been, but will need to adjust to Premier League play. While none of these players are Thierry Henry, they will most certainly be able to get the job done. Never count out Arsenal while Arsene Wenger is still at the club. Although they may not have the experience to win it all, there most certainly will not be a 21 point gap between 1st and 3rd this season.

2. Chelsea

Additions: Florent Malouda (Lyon), Tal Ben Haim (Bolton), Claudio Pizarro (Bayern Munich), Steve Sidwell (Reading), Danny Philliskirk (Oldham).

Losses: Khalid Boulahrouz (Sevilla, season-long loan), Yves Makaba-Makalamby (Hibernian), Geremi (Newcastle), Michael Mancienne (QPR).

Chelsea was so close to winning the Premier League title for the third consecutive time last season, but it looks like they will have to wait at least another year to raise another Barclays Premier League trophy. Chelsea have made some very nice additions this offseason, as Florent Malouda is looking especially impressive in the preseason. Petr Cech is arguably the best goalkeeper in the EPL, and their defense is headed by captain John Terry. The defense was further solidified by the addition of Israeli international Tel Ben Haim, and Ashley Cole, Wayne Bridge, Paulo Ferreira, and Ricardo Carvalho will all vie for a spots on the back line. The Blues midfield is top notch led by Frank Lampard, Michael Ballack, Michael Essien, Claude Makelele, Steve Sidwell, and John Obi Mikel. Ballack’s play last season was very underwhelming while Mikel began to impress more and more as the season went on. Malouda, Joe Cole, and Shaun Wright-Phillips are each very effective at attacking on the wings. Didier Drogba was simply spectacular last season, which aided in taking some of the negative light away from Andriy Shevchenko’s highly unsuccessful first season with the Blues. It will be interesting to see how Drogba holds up this season after playing in an incredible 60 games last season. New signing Claudio Pizzaro, Arjen Robben, and Salomon Kalou complete this formidable backline. Scott Sinclair is a youngster that will most likely be loaned out to another squad to gain experience and is definitely one to look for in the future. Mourinho may not be pleased with a second place finish, but I just don’t see Chelsea overtaking Manchester United just yet.

1. Manchester United

Additions: Owen Hargreaves (Bayern Munich), Anderson (FC Porto), Nani (Sporting Lisbon), Tomasz Kuszczak (West Brom)

Losses: Kieran Richardson (Sunderland)

For the second consecutive year, Manchester United are going to be kings of the EPL. I tried to convince myself they wouldn’t go back to back, but there is just no way around it, they are the best team in the league. Keep in mind; I’m making this prediction BEFORE the Tevez saga gets sorted out. If they add the uber-talented Argentine forward, there will be no stopping them. Cristiano Ronaldo was arguably the best player in the world last year, and at 22, he will only get better. Even younger is Wayne Rooney, 21, who has already established himself as one of the premiere strikers in the world. Personally I think Owen Hargreaves is a little overrated, but Anderson and Nani are the real deal and will be a thorn in the side of opposing defenses for years to come. Mix in experienced talent such as Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Michael Carrick, Rio Ferdinand, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Gabriel Heinze, and Gary Neville and United are going to be very hard to dethrone. With Sir Alex Ferguson at the helm, I have no doubt the Manchester United will be hoisting up the Premier League trophy this spring.

Pre-Season Superlatives

Footballer of the Year: Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United)

Last season Ronaldo made a bet with Sir Alex Ferguson that he would score 15 goals over the course of the year. He scored 23 in all competitions and 17 in the EPL. As I said earlier, he will only get better, and if Manchester United go back to back, look for him to win the top individual award. Others to watch for are last year’s winner Didier Drogba (Chelsea), Steven Gerrard (Liverpool), Cesc Fabregas (Arsenal) or my personal dark horse, Dimitar Berbatov (Tottenham).

Manager of the Year: Arsene Wenger (Arsenal)

Amidst all the offseason turmoil at Arsenal, if the Gunners end up in the top three, Wenger has to get the nod. After losing Henry and David Dein, along with the whole ownership issue, everyone is assuming that Arsenal will be on the decline. Because of all this, if the Gunners exceed expectation, Wenger will deserve the nod for manager of the year. Also contending (besides the other managers of the Big Four) are Martin Jol (Tottenham) and Sam Allardyce (Newcastle United). Depending on the success of their squads, Steve Bruce (Birmingham) and Roy Keane (Sunderland) could also be considered.

Breakout Young Player This Season: Fabrice Muamba (Birmingham)

Honestly, I wanted to put Theo Walcott here, but I figured he was already very well known. In the end I decided on Muamba who will have the responsibility of guiding Birmingham to safety. Comparisons have been made between Muamba and Patrick Viera, and they aren’t far off. Other names to watch are Anthony Stokes (Sunderland), Adel Taarabt (Tottenham) and Michael Johnson (Manchester City).

This is stacking up to be a great season in the EPL, with plenty of storylines to watch as it goes along. I, for one, can’t wait.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Premier League Preview: Part One

This has been a wild off season in the Premier League with lots and LOTS of spending going on (sure that has nothing to do with the television mega-deal the league just signed…). Scandals about improper transfers, transfers gone bad (i.e. Tevez and Heinze), shock departures (Thierry Henry), and teams getting new owners (Liverpool, Birmingham City, Manchester City, etc.) have filled the headlines. With perennial power Arsenal seemingly falling apart from the inside, along with big spending from the likes of Liverpool and Tottenham, there could be a big shake-up at the top. I know it's somewhat dangerous to do this before all the transfers are completed, because things could change drastically, but these are my predictions as of right now. So without further ado, here is part one of my 2007/08 Premier League preview.

20. Derby County

Additions: Andy Todd (Blackburn), Robert Earnshaw (Norwich City), Tyrone Mears (West Ham), Claude Davis (Sheffield United)

Losses: Arturo Lupoli (loan from Arsenal), Seth Johnson (released), Paul Peschisolido (Luton), Morten Bisgaard (released), Paul Boertien (released), Lee Grant (released), Ryan Smith (Millwall).

As great as a story it was for them to win promotion with a victory in the finals of the Championship playoffs, their happiness will be short-lived. It’s hard to see this team staying in the Premier League for more than one year. They simply do not have the talent to compete with the big boys. Headed by Steve Howard, their striking team is sub par as they lost their second leader scorer, Arturo Lupoli, in the offseason. It’s probably a bad sign when your club’s record signing, striker Robert Earnshaw, was bought for only 3.5 million pounds. Their midfield is lead by the young and talented Giles Barnes, who seems destined for a bigger club. Their defense has a chance to be decent. Todd is a wiry veteran full back who should help, and Mears seems to be a promising young player, but there is no reason to think that the squad will be in the top division come next May.

19. Wigan Athletic

Additions: Antoine Sibierski (Newcastle), Titus Bramble (Newcastle), Mario Melchiot (Rennes), Andreas Granqvist (Helsingborg), Carlo Nash (Preston), Jason Koumas (West Brom)

Losses: Lee McCulloch (Rangers), Matt Jackson (Watford), Arjan de Zeeuw (released), David Unsworth (released).

Last season, Wigan escaped relegation by the skin of its teeth. They won’t be so lucky this year. It probably isn’t a good thing when your manager resigns AFTER you escape relegation. Sounds to me like a sign of things to come. Emile Heskey and Henri Camara are decent up front, but outside of those two, where are the goals going to come from? Last season Wigan’s top three scorers netted 9, 6, and 4 goals respectively. This simply does not cut it in the Premier League. Sibierski and Koumas were brought in to solidify a poor midfield. They are both good players, but will not be enough to push Wigan over the top. The bright spot for Wigan, if you can call it a bright spot, is its defense. Leighton Baines, a highly regarded left back who has received interest from many of the top squads, and Mario Melchiot, newly appointed skipper of the club, anchor the back line. Chris Kirkland is a fine goalkeeper, and will need to be extraordinary in order for Wigan to avoid relegation. If Wigan has any hope of avoiding relegation, it will have to play stingy defense and hope it can poach a goal here or there.

18. Middlesbrough

Additions: Tuncay Sanli (Fenerbahce), Jeremie Aliadiere (Arsenal), Jonathan Woodgate (Real Madrid), Luke Young (Charlton)

Losses: Mark Viduka (Newcastle), Stuart Parnaby (Birmingham), Abel Xavier (LA Galaxy), Malcolm Christie (released), Danny Graham (released)

This one was actually hard to choose. The teams in between about 12 to 18 are pretty much interchangeable. However someone has to go down, and it will be Middlesbrough. It’s not that I dislike Middlesbrough; it’s just that I like other teams more. New signing Tuncay Sanli has scored plenty of goals in his past stops, but he has yet to play in the Premier League. It would be hard to imagine him producing more than Mark Viduka, who was the Premier League’s fourth leading scorer last year. Jeremie Aliadiere is a very talented player who never quite put it all together at Arsenal, but it is unknown whether the change of scenery will do him any good. Yakubu’s got a pretty cool name, but no one can top Dong-gook Lee. Although he’s never scored at Middlesbrough I have high, HIGH hopes for him. Good thing he’s South Korean and not Vietnamese…but I digress. Their midfield is nothing special, headlined by a talented youngster Stewart Downing. The only other name of note in the midfield is James Morrison, and so far the only thing noteworthy about him is his name. Jonathan Woodgate and Luke Young are talented defenders, but the rest are nothing to speak of. Schwarzer is a good goalie that once garnered interested from Manchester United. For some reason I just don’t have a good feeling about this club. Even though they’ve added some good parts, I think that other teams have done more and lost less, and therefore Middlesbrough will be relegated.

So there it is. As I see it right now Derby County, Wigan Athletic, and Middlesbrough are all on their way down. Now to those that survive…

17. Sunderland

Additions: Dickson Etuhu (Norwich), Kieran Richardson (Manchester United), Greg Halford (Reading), Russell Anderson (Aberdeen), Michael Chopra (Cardiff City), Paul McShane

Losses: Kenny Cunningham (released), Tommy Miller (Ipswich, released)

Call me crazy, but there is something about Sunderland, something that makes me feel like they are going to be around for awhile in the Premier League. The young squad seemed to attach itself to its up-and-coming manager Roy Keane as they trounced through their Coca-Cola Championship competition. They are very inexperienced, but it’s hard to deny their immense talent. Strikers Anthony Stokes and Michael Chopra are twp of the brightest young talents in the Premier League and they are supported by veterans such as Dwight Yorke, David Connolly and Stern John. Their midfielders are also young but talented headlined by Liam Miller and the newly acquired Kieran Richardson. If there is a weakness, it is the defense. Keane is hard at work to remedy this situation, and the recent signing of defender Paul McShane will not be his last in that department this offseason. Even though the team itself might not be as good as Middlesbrough, or even Wigan, I think Roy Keane will, through his leadership and pure willpower, guide his squad to safety. And beware, this team isn’t going anywhere for a long time.

16. Birmingham City

Additions: Garry O'Connor (Lokomotiv Moscow), Stuart Parnaby (Middlesbrough), Fabrice Muamba (Arsenal), Olivier Kapo (Juventus), Daniel de Ridder (Celta Vigo), Richard Kingston (Antalyaspor), Rafael Schmitz (Lille, season-long loan)

Losses: Bruno N'Gotty (Leicester), Stephen Clemence (Leicester), DJ Campbell (Leicester)

This is another squad I have a really good feeling about. Once again the roster is filled with young talent. Teams with great midfielders are able to control the pace of the game, and often the outcome. Birmingham possesses some of the best young midfielders in the game. Fabrice Muamba and Sebastian Larsson, both former Arsenal youngsters, are the real deal. Muamba has been compared favorably to Patrick Viera, and Larsson is a goal scoring force from the midfield position. Daniel De Ridder was a star on the wing for the recently crowned Euro U-21 championship team from Holland. Olivier Kapo is a very talented attacking midfielder as well, and will greatly aid the Blues attack. Their defense is solid with Radhi Jaidi and Martin Taylor manning the two centre-back positions. Rafael Schmitz is an experienced, talented left back who will greatly aid the back line. Cameron Jerome, Garry O’Connor, and Gary McSheffrey make for a promising, albeit young, attacking corps. Steve Bruce is trying to add another experienced piece up front with Mido and Andy Cole being linked to the Blues. I like the direction this team is going, and they’re only going to get better.

15. Fulham

Additions: Aaron Hughes (Aston Villa), Steven Davis (Aston Villa), Diomansy Kamara (West Brom), Chris Baird (Southampton), Paul Konchesky (West Ham), David Healy (Leeds), Lee Cook (QPR)

Losses: Claus Jensen (released), Mark Pembridge (released), Tomasz Radzinski (released), Mark Crossley (released, now at Oldham)

Fulham is another team with a very good manager and could climb up the league table in years to come. That said, it is hard to see them finishing much higher than here this season. Lawrie Sanchez is a good young manager that saved Fulham from relegation last year. The defense has solid contributors in Carlos Bocanegra, Paul Konchesky and new additions Chris Baird and Aaron Hughes. Liam Rosenior is a talented younger player that has a bright future. Niemi in goal is solid as well. The midfield will be led by newly acquired Steven Davis, U.S. international Clint Dempsey, Welsh international Simon Davies, and my personal favorite, Papa Bouba Diop (How can you not love that name?). While nothing special, this group will be able to hold its own in Premier League play. Joining his American compatriot across the pond is striker Brian McBride, who will be joined by former WBA hitman Diomansy Kamara up front. Collins John is a young forward who was Fulham’s top scorer in the 2005/06 season, but lost his spot last year. If he can regain his form, he will provide some depth to a sparse Fulham strike force. Last year, Fulham’s problem was goalscoring (only 12 games with 2 or more goals and 12 games where they were shut out) and that trend doesn’t seem to be going up anytime soon.

14. Manchester City

Additions: Geovanni (Cruzeiro), Rolando Bianchi (Reggina), Gelson Fernandes (FC Sion), Martin Petrov (Atletico Madrid)

Losses: Sylvain Distin (Portsmouth), Trevor Sinclair (released), Stephen Jordan (Burnley, free), Hatem Trabelsi (released), Joey Barton (Newcastle), Nicky Weaver (Charlton).

Don’t buy the hype. That should be the motto for this club. Sure it looks good on paper. A new manager, owner, and some publicized new signings. Have people really forgotten that Sven-Goran Eriksson was run out of his England gig? And people are banking on him to turn this club around? Highly doubtful. Bianchi and Geovanni could pan out, but how are they going to replace Distin, Barton, and Weaver? Personally I don’t think they can do it, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they fall below where I have them. Their defense still should be solid, although not very deep. Micah Richards will be a future superstar, and Mills and Dunne are reliable veterans. The midfield is definitely the weak link on the team. Dietmar Hamann and Ousmane Dabo have some experience and some talent, and Geovanni and the recently signed Martin Petrov should provide a scoring spark from the midfield. Michael Johnson is an up and coming player that will have the unfortunate task of replacing departed star Joey Barton. New signing Rolando Bianchi is young and talented, and will be asked to carry much of the scoring load. Georgios Samaras has shown some promise, and Bernardo Corradi and Darius Vassell could both provide some depth at striker. Don’t be fooled. This is not a team that will be contending for a UEFA Cup spot anytime soon.

13. Reading

Additions: Kalifa Cisse (Boavista)

Losses: Steve Sidwell (Chelsea), Greg Halford (Sunderland), Curtis Ujah

Reading were the darlings of the Premier League last season (the club’s first ever season in England’s top division), but this year the honeymoon is over. You may say, “Hey, didn’t they finish 8th last season? And aren’t they pretty much exactly the same team?” That’s exactly it. They were almost entirely inactive in the transfer market, plus they lost arguably their best player, Steve Sidwell (you know, the guy that almost ruined Beckham’s debut) to Chelsea. While they were busy doing absolutely nothing, many of the teams behind them last season were buying new players and improving their squads. The Reading defense is led by Nicky Shorey, an established left back who was the first Reading player in almost 100 years on the England squad, and Ivar Ingimarsson, the club’s player of the year this past season. Marcus Hahnemann, a U.S. international, is solid in goal as he made more saves this past season than any other Premier League goalkeeper. The midfield is hurt by the departure of Sidwell, and James Harper will have to be the leader in the center. Stephen Hunt and Bobby Convey (another American) will be called on to provide a scoring spark from the wing. Up front, the Royals have two rising stars in Leroy Lita and Kevin Doyle, who scored 14 and 13 goals last year respectively. Dave Kitson is a solid performer off the bench, but there is a drop-off after him. Reading has some nice pieces, but their inactivity in the offseason will cost them this coming season.

12. Aston Villa

Additions: Nigel Reo-Coker (West Ham), Harry Forrester (Watford), Marlon Harewood (West Ham).

Losses: Gavin McCann (Bolton), Jlloyd Samuel (Bolton), Juan Pablo Angel (New York Red Bulls), Stephen Henderson (Bristol City), Aaron Hughes (Fulham), Lee Hendrie (Sheffield United, released), Steven Davis (Fulham), Chris Sutton (retired).

Where Reading hurt itself by being inactive this offseason, Aston Villa made some movies that should really add to their squad. Problem is, once again, other teams did more. I, for one, am a big fan of Nigel Reo-Coker, who was wrongly run out of West Ham. Anchored by Olof Mellberg, the Villa defense is sturdy although unspectacular. Gary Cahill and Martin Laursen are two players are important in the back and need to stay healthy. Headlined by skipper Gareth Barry, the Villa midfield also boasts Reo-Coker, Stiliyan Petrov, and the talented ex-Man United man Eric Djemba-Djemba. Although Barry and Reo-Coker should be mainstays on the England side for years to come, the real strength of Villa lies in their strikers. Gabriel Agbonlahor, Ashley Young, and Luke Moore are all extremely, EXTREMELY talented and under 22 years of age. John Carew is the most experienced of the bunch (and only 27), and has been a scoring machine everywhere he has played. Carew has a track record of moving around from club to club, so I would not be surprised if Villa sold him to gather funds to improve another area of their team. The future truly looks bright for Aston Villa, but it will be at least another year before they are fighting for a cup position.

11. Blackburn

Additions: Gunnar Nielsen (BK Frem Copenhagen), Maceo Rigters (NAC Breda)

Losses: Andy Todd (Derby)

Blackburn is another squad that simply did not do enough in the offseason to keep up pace with all the other clubs who were active in the summer. Blackburn’s strength is their strike force lead by the Premier League’s second leading scorer last year, Benni McCarthy. Jason Roberts was injured last season, but has had success in the Premier League. Matt Derbyshire is another young striker on the rise and was immortalized when he was the first English player to score in the rebuilt Wembley Stadium. Newly acquired Maceo Rigters was sought out by many top clubs after his performance at the Euro Under-21 Championships for his role on Holland’s championship team this summer. On defense, the Rovers will miss Andy Todd’s toughness, but the likes of skipper Ryan Nelsen, Stephen Warnock, and Christopher Samba should be adequate. Midfielders Morten Gamst Pedersen and David Bentley are outstanding and provide a much-needed goal scoring punch.

Coming Sunday: Clubs 10-1 and Pre-Season Superlatives

Friday, July 20, 2007

What this is all about...

“Any time gone by was better.”

-Jorge Manrique

While pondering what I would write in my very first blog post, I came across this very interesting quote. Truer words have never been spoken. It seems like everyone longs for the “good old days.” Whether the “good old days” means last week, last year, or hundreds of years ago are completely up to the individual. Time has a way of hallowing events, as the ability to create nostalgia is in every human being. For me, the love affair with history has been a long one. Raised by a father who has an unparalleled knowledge of sports trivia, I learned at an early age how to pick up on important names, dates and events. With a firm foundation in sports, my passion for history increased as I gained more and more schooling. The American Revolution, Greek mythology, and Biblical history were all subjects I became quickly interested in. I was somewhat ridiculed in elementary school (although not too harshly) because I used to spend my free time reading the encyclopedia. As a red-blooded, meat-eating American, military history always used to peak my interests. As I progressed in school, I was introduced to new and more exciting historical peoples and events. I became very interested in medieval times, and was fascinated by the unique culture of the Egyptians. This education continued in high school, where I first had the thought of a potential career in history. The class was World History, and it was in this class that I first delved into the depths of ancient history. Great cultures like the Sumerians,


the Medes and the Persians,

the Greeks,

the Romans,

and the Ottomans

were all extremely captivating. My hunger for knowledge was insatiable, and it only kept growing.

My very first college history course was U.S. History After 1877. I was amazed at how much more excited I was about learning than I had been just months before. If I had any doubts about my switch, they were all swept away by my sophomore year and Civ. Western Civilization is a required course at Oklahoma Baptist University that integrates the learning of history and literature, one that has almost reached mythical proportions. I had heard everything from “Civ is the best class ever” to “Oh my God I hated Civ.” I honestly did not know what to expect. By the end of it, I think I would have to pick the first quote. Civ not only gave me a new respect for history, but also a newfound respect for literature and its place in culture.

If there is an opposite of ADD, I’m fairly certain I have it. When I get on something, whether it is a TV show, or a sports team, or a subject in history, it has my full attention. Such is the case with my latest obsession, the Civil War. I was enrolled this past spring in “Civil War and Reconstruction.” I enjoyed the class a great deal, and was very intrigued to go into more depth than time allowed us to in class. Having already decided I was going to live in Florence, Alabama for the summer, I knew I would probably have a lot of free time on my hands, so I decided to build up a mini-Civil War library. So far this summer I have read six books on the Civil War, mainly biographies on Confederate generals, and am almost done with a seventh. Already one of my friends has told me he thinks I’m going to be an expert Civil War historian one day, an idea I’m quite fond of actually. The knowledge I have gained this summer is quite fascinating, and will be the subject of at least a few numbers of posts that I will do in the near future.

The objective of this blog is to share my love of history (and sports) and hopefully to stimulate the thoughts of my readers into creating a passion for the past (or increasing an already present passion). Hopefully my readers will come to realize the history is actually better than fiction. I heard that recently in an episode of Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History (which I recommend, although you should be prepared for a William Shatner-esque speaking style) and could not agree more with it. How can you top some of history’s greatest events? It is impossible. From the pyramids to Hannibal crossing the Alps, from Alexander the Great conquering the known world to the assassination of Caesar, these are the things movies are made of.

Don’t worry, if history isn’t your thing I will also be doing a lot of writing on sports, the other main passion of my life. Feel free to suggest any topics you would like me to write about and I’ll see what I can do.