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Premiership Review E – M


Last Season: 7th

With the distinct lack of transfer funds at his disposal, David Moyes has to be commended for his ability to guide Everton to top-half finishes season after season. This was no different last time out as the Toffees recovered from a dismally slow start (they didn’t win a league game until October) to finish a very respectable 7th place.

Yet a lot of Everton supporters are no longer content with ‘respectable’ league finishes and want the team to push on and compete for Champions League football, something they’ve threatened to do so many times under Moyes and had a slight taste of in 2005/06, when they were knocked out in qualifying by an impressive Villarreal side. The lack of investment at the club has caused some murmurs of discontent within their fan base and surely the manager himself.

Last summer’s major acquisition was Jermaine Beckford on a free transfer from Leeds United. And while he was no disappointment to the team, weighing in with 8 league goals, he was not the superstar signing required to break through the ceiling that currently blocks Everton from Champions League football.

It is plainly obvious to everyone with an interest in the Premier League that Everton need a top class striker, and have done for a number of seasons now. Louis Saha is exactly that when fit, but his injury problems make him an expensive liability for large parts of the season. Yet Moyes will have to produce the funds for a new forward by auctioning off parts of his already threadbare squad. Players such as Yakubu, Joseph Yobo and James Vaughan have been put up for sale, with only one of the three (Vaughan) having been sold thus far.

In the increasingly money-driven landscape of the Premier League, the harsh reality is that Everton don’t have the resources to compete consistently at the top and will have to rely on their impressive youth academy and the loan market, in order to maintain their push for European football at the very least.

The loan market will be an important tool if Everton are to challenge for European football this season, and a reported interest in Daniel Sturridge would be a big step forward after the Chelsea striker proved he could be a regular goalscorer while on loan at Bolton last season. As well as this, the sudden appearance of Joey Barton to the transfer list at Newcastle could see the Toffees put in an offer to try and add some grit and determination to their midfield, another strong yet cost effective option.

While a lack of funds has been the blame for Everton’s recent inability to bridge the gap between themselves and the Champions League contenders, their squad is easily good enough to achieve Europa League qualification at least. Players such as Seamus Coleman and Leighton Baines truly stepped up to the plate last season and with the continual brilliance of Tim Cahill, added to the array of youth talent at their disposal, Everton have every reason to be optimistic about their chances this time around.

Last season’s dismal start saw the Toffees remain winless until October, effectively dashing their European dreams before the campaign had truly got underway. That being said, they have the ability to string a number of results together effectively, as evidenced by them losing just twice in their final 24 matches, following their poor early season form.

Everton remain a fixture in the top half of the Premier League, yet many fans want more from their team. The question is, will they be able to stay competitive with the financial giants continuing to flex their muscles?

Key Man: Leighton Baines – The England left-back really blossomed last season and weighed in with some vital goals for the Toffees. His marauding runs from left-back will cause distress to many a team over the course of this season.


Last Season: 8th

After the sudden departure of Mark Hughes at the end of last season, it looked as though he was heading up in the world and Fulham would have to prepare for another period of discontent while they searched for a new manager. But for whatever reason, Hughes is still out of a job and Fulham have made a very handy appointment in Martin Jol, giving fans belief that they can begin to look to the higher reaches of the Premier League table, rather than spend a season watching the relegation scrap unfold over their shoulders.

What Hughes did do for the club however, was give them renewed confidence after the departure of Roy Hodgson and kept the crux of an incredibly stable team together. In particular, Hughes made the team a more potent attacking threat, as well as maintaining some defensive solidarity. This has left Jol a fine platform in order to push onwards and upwards and perhaps shoot for a European place, or maybe even a domestic cup. Neither of these targets are unrealistic and with a couple of astute signings, we could see Fulham start to make waves again.

Jol has brought some Premier League quality into his side with the addition of former Liverpool left-back John-Arne Riise, who could prove a real bargain at £2.4m if he regains even half of the form he showed on Merseyside. The manager has also added the capture of Pajtim Kasami, the highly-rated Switzerland Under-21 international for a fee of £4m. This is indicative of the way Jol wants to build his Fulham side, youthful exuberance coupled with the steady experience of players such as Danny Murphy, Simon Davies and Aaron Hughes.

Throughout last season, Fulham improved drastically in the attacking department, and can now boast a wide array of threats across the midfield and forward areas. On the wings they have a rejuvenated Damien Duff and the classy American Clint Dempsey, who contributed 12 goals last season as the Cottagers finished 8th. Add this to the returning duo of Bobby Zamora and Moussa Dembele and you have a particularly potent collection of talent in the latter part of the field.

However, Fulham were caught out last season when Zamora and Dembele both succumbed to injury for long periods. Jol is no fool and will know that he must address this lack of depth upfront before the transfer window closes as his only other proven striker is Andy Johnson, who really hasn’t been the same following a spate of long-term injuries. Cameron Jerome has been mooted as a possible acquisition but Fulham may be put off by Birmingham’s £3m price tag, which seems extortionate considering the striker’s lack of goals at the very highest level.

Whatever personnel that arrive between now and the end of the transfer window, Martin Jol has an excellent squad to mould into his own and will look to establish Fulham further following the exceptional work of Roy Hodgson and then Mark Hughes. A team that is always hard to beat at home will hope to add a new dimension by picking up more results on the road, in order to catapult them from mid-table mediocrity up to the heady heights of European football. And after their incredible run to the final in 2010, who could blame them for wanting another slice of the action?

Key Man: Clint Dempsey – The American is a real goal scoring threat from midfield, as well as being an excellent provider for the forwards. If Fulham can keep him fit and firing all season, they will surely improve substantially in every competition.


Last Season: 6th

When Kenny Dalglish took over in January from Roy Hodgson, Liverpool were 12th in the table and only five points above bottom placed West Ham. King Kenny then guided them to 33 points from 18 games, only three less than champions Man Utd over the same period of time. This miraculous turnaround and subsequent spending spree over the summer have given the Merseysiders renewed hope for the new season and also gave Dalglish a lucrative new three-year contract for his efforts.

A jaded and unimpressive Liverpool side under Hodgson were quickly transformed into a vibrant attacking unit with the arrival of the legendary Scotsman, who cashed in on his prized asset Fernando Torres in order to raise the funds with which to mould his own squad. Dalglish worked quickly with the £50m fee to bring in Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez from Newcastle and Ajax respectively, both having a big impact before the end of the season. As well as his transfer window purchases, Dalglish integrated some of the Merseyside club’s youth prospects successfully.

Jack Robinson, John Flanagan and Jay Spearing all had a part to play as Liverpool rose swiftly up the Premier League table. With Andy Carroll providing a bustling physical presence upfront and Luis Suarez becoming the veritable “jewel in the crown”, endearing himself to the Anfield faithful with a virtuoso performance against their arch-rivals from Manchester. Dalgish’s magic even spread to players such as Maxi Rodriguez and Lucas Leiva, who had previously underwhelmed in their Liverpool careers. Maxi particularly impressed towards the end of the season with an incredible seven goals in only three games, including two hat-tricks, as Liverpool narrowly missed out on a European spot.

There has been no let up in the activity at Anfield over the summer either as the biggest spending spree in the club’s history has continued at a frantic pace. In addition to Carroll and Suarez, who joined for a combined fee of almost £58m in January, the club have spent £45m on Stewart Downing, Jordan Henderson and Charlie Adam. These signings will help to bolster their attacking options and make them a real potent force in the final third of the pitch, however more investment is needed in the defence if they are to really challenge for Champions League football once again.

Having made bids for Gael Clichy and Phil Jones, along with a reported interest in Jose Enrique of Newcastle and Scott Dann of Birmingham City, Liverpool are clearly looking to address this issue sooner rather than later. A 3-3 draw with Valerenga, coupled with the 3-0 loss against Hull City in pre-season will have been a massive wake-up call for Dalglish.

The expectations have suddenly been catapulted as a result of last season’s late surge, and Champions League qualification has to be the aim this term. There can be arguments made that Liverpool only performed so well after Dalglish’s arrival because they had nothing left to lose after a dismal start to the campaign under Roy Hodgson, and King Kenny will want to prove these doubters wrong and re-establish Liverpool as a top domestic force once more. This is a distinct possibility as two of their rivals for 4th spot, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur, have yet to address their own weaknesses this summer, and look to be unwilling to spend the money Liverpool have on improvements.

It may not seem like it, but Dalglish now comes under a bit of pressure for the coming season. The Anfield faithful will never turn on him, but if Champions League qualification is not achieved after the sizeable chunk of money made available by John W. Henry, the Liverpool owner may move swiftly to find someone who can guarantee a return on his investment. However, if they can capture one or two more important signings, Liverpool could be very much back in the picture after a hiatus of three years.

Key Man: Steven Gerrard – Now 31, Gerrard is the elder statesman of a youthful looking Liverpool side and will again be relied on too much this season as he so often has. His passion and determination have been evident ever since he broke into the side over a decade ago and if he can stay fit for a whole season, Liverpool could be back with a very big bang.

Manchester City

Last Season: 3rd

With a bottomless wallet and a demand for success, Roberto Mancini has gone about assembling one of the most expensive squads in recent memory, in order to close the gap on City’s more illustrious neighbours. This season could be the nearest that gap has ever come to closing after another summer of lavish spending has strengthened the club substantially, despite the ongoing problems with want-away striker Carlos Tevez.

The signing of Sergio Aguero was City’s biggest of the summer, and the £38m man will be a superb addition to an attack consisting of a variety of mercurial talents already. His capture is a signal to all Premiership clubs that Man City are now a force to be reckoned with and the added attraction of guaranteed Champions League football has now seen them become a more eye-catching destination than ever for superstar footballers.

As with every summer since Sheikh Mansour and the Abu Dhabi group took over, the Citizens have paid staggering amounts of money in order to secure their intended targets.  This has seen them rapidly rise above Chelsea in many peoples’ eyes as clear second favourites to win the league. The signing of Gael Clichy has killed two birds with one stone, substantially weakening a potential rival in Arsenal and adding proven Premier League quality to the squad at the relatively low expense of £7m.

After being in the footballing doldrums for so much of their recent existence and having to watch their more illustrious neighbours hog all the glory, Man City’s ‘rags to riches’ story has the cameras focused just as equally on them. This doesn’t seem to have hindered the Citizens, and last season they thrived under the spotlight, winning the FA Cup to record a first major trophy in 35 years and banish the famous banner draped over Old Trafford once and for all.

The big question is whether Man City can continue rolling this season and successfully juggle domestic and European aspirations. If they are to add to their trophy cabinet this year, their strikeforce will be a vital component as both Mario Balotelli and Edin Dzeko proved to be unreliable in completely different ways. Since arriving in January for the princely sum of £27m, Dzeko has hardly set the world alight with a meagre return of two goals in 15 appearances. The argument will be that the giant Bosnian has not yet settled into the English game sufficiently, although the jury will be out until he starts to produce the form that saw him gain recognition all over the continent while at Wolfsburg. For Balotelli, injury and disciplinary issues stopped him from showing his true potential last season, and if pre-season is anything to go by, he has still not learned to control his eccentric personality. As evidenced by a ridiculous attempt to backheel the ball into the net when one-on-one with the opposition goalkeeper in a match against LA Galaxy, a stunt which saw him immediately substituted by an irate Mancini.

There is another problem that threatens to derail preparations for this season however, as the Carlos Tevez saga rumbles on without any sign of being resolved. A protracted £40m move back to Corinthians fell through due to the end of the Brazilian transfer window, and Tevez is yet to return to training with his current club. He is clearly reluctant to come back to the club and Mancini will want to rectify this situation quickly, as a fit and happy Tevez could be the key to a successful season. The Manchester City captain clearly has his mind elsewhere, and it may do the club good if Roberto Mancini were to take some action and hand the armband to a more stable member of the club, lest it undermine his season from the very beginning.

One thing is for certain, after City’s FA Cup triumph last season, no one is taking them lightly this time around. They will be a force to be reckoned with both at home and in Europe, where a run to the knockout stages is entirely possible. However, the pressure put on Mancini to obtain instant success is going to increase after having had a taste of it last season, and the Abu Dhabi group will have no hesitation in removing him if things start to go wrong for the Italian. That being said, City are one of the favourites for the league title and look set to continue their lavish spending until they reach their goal.


Key Man: David Silva – The Spaniard is one of City’s truly special players, and has the ability to unlock defences with great ease. His vision and passing ability from midfield will provide ample chances for the club’s strikers, who will be expected to gobble up the chances given to them by this diminutive yet outstanding playmaker.

Manchester United

Last Season: 1st (Champions)

Despite finishing 9 points clear of Chelsea as they secured a record 19th league championship, it was still the general opinion that this was the weakest title-winning squad Sir Alex had ever assembled. This is even more evident when considering that Chelsea suffered a horrific mid-season slump, yet were still in the title race when they came to Old Trafford in May, only to succumb to a 2-1 loss and relinquish their grip on the crown. Without the surprise outstanding form of Javier Hernandez, United may not have even got close to the 80-point haul they managed by the end of the season.

This has not got past the wily old manager however, and Ferguson has used all the funds at his disposal in order to craft another squad which he thinks will be capable of retaining the league title. The addition of Phil Jones at centre back is one for the future, and if he can spark up a connection with Chris Smalling, they can become ready-made replacements for the aging pair of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic in the future. As well as this, Ferguson has added England international Ashley Young to supply pace and creativity to the wings, as well as providing competition for Antonio Valencia and Nani for the wider midfield positions.

A big blow at the end of last season was the retirement of stalwart ‘keeper, Edwin Van Der Sar, and Sir Alex acted quickly to secure a suitable replacement for the classy Dutchman. David De Gea has come with a big reputation and an even bigger price tag. The near £18m spent on the Spanish under-21 international will see expectations soar and there will be huge pressure on the youngster to slip effortlessly into his predecessor’s shoes. His debut in the Community Shield will not have alleviated this pressure either, as he was seemingly caught out of position when Edin Dzeko rifled in from 25yds.

However, the battle for domestic honours is just half the problem for United. Last season’s Champions League final demolition at the hands of Barcelona will have only added to Ferguson’s burning desire to once again reign supreme in Europe. To do this though, United still need to add to their squad before the transfer window slams shut later this month, and a creative midfielder is the priority after the retirement of Paul Scholes further weakened the champions in that particular area. There has been much talk around the newspapers that Wesley Sneijder is a potential target, as is Samir Nasri. Either of these two players would be an incredible acquisition and one that could take them from Champions League contenders to one of the favourites, instantly.

United’s midfield has come under slight scrutiny recently and there is reason to understand this criticism considering how much strength in depth there is in both their attack and defence. Michael Carrick has never really reached his potential as the lynchpin in the heart of the Red Devils’ midfield, and the same goes for Anderson, who despite showing some incredible promise at the start of his United career, has stagnated massively since then. The addition of a player of the same ilk as Sneijder or Nasri would add another dimension to the squad and enable them to pick the locks of Europe’s tightest defences.

This remains a tricky obstacle to negotiate for Ferguson however, as a bid for Nasri earlier in the summer was rejected almost before chief executive David Gill had the chance to pick up the phone. The public courting of Sneijder is also becoming a long drawn out affair, as Inter Milan continually rebuff the Red Devils’ advances for the 27-year old, while the player himself insists he is for sale should the right offer come in. On the outside, Ferguson has remained cool and calm, but you can bet the fiery Scotsman is desperate to secure one of his intended targets sooner rather than later, in order to try and bridge the ever expanding gap between his side and the big spending sides from Spain.

Domestically, United look good value to retain their Premier League title and will take some stopping. But more investment is needed in the next few weeks if they are to regain their place at the top of the European mountain.

Key Man: Wayne Rooney – The 25-year old has been at United for almost 8 years now and still has the competitive drive and passion to help raise his team when things are difficult. His energy knows no bounds and while hints of his fiery temper still linger, he has learnt to control himself much more effectively in recent years. The Red Devils’ best player by a mile when he is on form, he can lead them to further glories in the coming season. 

Rob Johanson

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