Posts Tagged ‘season previews’

Season Previews 09/10 – Wolverhampton Wanderers

14/08/2009

wolves

Last Season: Promoted from Champioship (1st)

Say hello to your new teammates: Kevin Doyle, Ronad Zubar, Greg Halford, Andrew Surman, Nenad Milijas, Marcus Hahnemann.

Close the door on your way out: Stephen Gleeson, Darren Potter.

Predicted star: Slyvan Ebanks-Blake. A former Man Utd prospect, he moved to Plymouth and then Wolves and has progressed to a stage where he’s been top scorer in the Championship two seasons running. Still only 23, now is the time to see whether he can cut it in the top flight. Wolves’ attacking style of football will mean he gets plenty chances to score. Double figures in goals is certainly a possibility.

Needs a big year: Mick McCarthy oversaw a dreadful Sunderland side last time he was in the Premier League and he’ll be looking to show that he can manage at the highest level. He finally got Wolves up at the third attempt of trying and he’ll hope that they don’t go straight back down. In terms of players, most will need big years if they are to stay up.

How many can he score?

How many can he score?

One to watch: Nemad Milijas scored 22 goals for Red Star Belgrade last season while Michael Kightly provided 18 Championship assists. Expect to feature heavily in Wolves’ best play this season.

What they want to happen: Survival.

Nightmare scenario: Bottom while Birmingham or Burnley stay up.

Plan A: A strong spine will be supplemented by plenty of flair players who will look to attack at every opportunity. Ebanks-Blake will need to convert a high ratio of the chances created for him.

Plan B, just in case: We’ll score one more than you.

Predicted finish: 16th.

Why? I always believe that promoted teams who go for it are more likely to stay up. There’s no point being hard to beat but only ever picking up draws when you could go all out for a win every three weeks. In that respect Wolves have a great chance of staying up. Their defence is not the best but they have plenty of attacking options to gain enough wins to just about survive. Obviously not everyone will be able to transfer their Championship form to the Premier League but players like Ebanks-Blake should be able to make the step up. Kevin Doyle has already scored for Reading in the top flight and could form a good partnership with SEB.

Cheer up, it could be worse.

Cheer up, it could be worse.

Kightly is an interesting prospect but I think they’ll probably end up relying on Milijas more. As I was saying the defence could be better (52 goals conceded last year) but the signing of Zubar should go some way to solving that. As for Mick McCarthy he should cheer up a bit. People do slate him and I’m not convinced he’ll be the one to keep them up but if he just enjoyed things a little more than the media perception of him might change.

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T.

Season Previews 09/10 – Wigan Athletic

14/08/2009

wigan

Last Season: 11th.

Say hello to your new teammates: Jason Scotland, James McCarthy, Jordi Gomez, Hendry Thomas, Scott Sinclair.

Close the door on your way out: Lee Cattermole, Antonio Valencia, Henri Camara, Amr Zaki, Antoine Sibierski.

Predicted star: Jordi Gomez comes with quite a good reputation from Espanyol. He was on loan at Swansea last season and was at the heart of much of their play as well as scoring 12 times. With the departure of Valencia, a lot of the creative impetus will be on his shoulders. I imagine Roberto Martinez might build the team around him and with it continue his belief in technique over brawn.

Jordi and Jason attempt to repeat their magic in the top flight.

Jordi and Jason attempt to repeat their magic in the top flight.

Needs a big year: Jason Scotland joins the manager from Swansea and is immediately Wigan’s main striker. He scored goals for fun in the Championship and I happen to think he’ll be a success in the Premier League too. Strong but pacy, he has a sweet left foot and is capable of goals from anywhere in and around the box. A potential bargain at £2m.

One to watch: Midfielder James McCarthy has joined from Hamilton Academicals where he had made his debut at 15. Still only 18, he’ll look to break into Ireland’s full squad and with it potentially go to the World Cup.

What they want to happen: Stability following the departure of Valencia and Cattermole. Nice football too please.

Nightmare scenario: Martinez and his two Swansea signings get found out at the higest level.

Plan A: Use the solid defence that Bruce has left behind and use it as a basis for fast, attacking football which uses N’Zogbia and Gomez as the creativity and Jason Scotland as the clinical finisher up front.

Plan B, just in case: Attack even faster and with more passing. There’s no long ball tactics here.

Predicted finish: 13th.

Why? Steve Bruce improved Wigan season by season and made several risky but rewarding signings which have since gone on to bigger clubs. Players like Palacios and Valencia were signed for peanuts from a vast scouting network and were sold for many times their original fee. He’s left for Sunderland and in comes Roberto Martinez, who’s gathered a glowing reputation as one of Britain’s brightest young managers at Swansea.

Should bring some nice football to the Premier League

Should bring some nice football to the Premier League

A former Wigan player, Martinez has raided his old club for their two best players in Gomez and Scotland as he looks to offset the impact of Wigan losing two of their best – Cattermole and Valencia. His teams are very easy on the eye and whilst it remains to be seen whether he can cut it in the Premier League, I’m willing to bet he’ll succeed rather than fail. He is fortunate to have inherited one of the better defences in the bottom half, even Titus Bramble can be relied on these days. Figueroa is also a good defender though generally speaking they could do with a little more reinforcement in that area.

Valencia is a big loss but I think Gomez could provide a similar impact. If nothing else, Jason Scotland will score the goals to ensure there is no relegation battle. He is a bit of journeyman but has scored one in two for the last four seasons. A snip at £2m. There will be some growing pains but Wigan have enough good players to fulfil Martinez’s football philosophy and finish in the middle group of teams.

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T.

Season Previews 09/10 – West Ham United

14/08/2009

west-ham

Last Season: 9th.

Say hello to your new teammates: Fabio Daprela, Herita Ilunga (loan made permanent), Frank Nouble, Peter Kurucz, Luis Jimenez.

Close the door on your way out: Lee Bowyer, Freddie Sears (loan), Lucas Neill, Diego Tristan.

Predicted star: Carlton Cole knows that if he maintains the form of last season where he scored ten goals and led the line magnificently then he’s going to the World Cup. In an unassuming team, he’s one of the few current players to consistently make headlines. A good West Ham season will rely on him a lot.

More of the same please.

More of the same please.

Needs a big year: Savio Nsereko was signed for quite a large fee in January and spent the following five months adjusting to the Premier League. Yet to score in his ten games, West Ham will need him to start putting in effective performances. Given that Dean Ashton is never fit, he’s essentially first choice striker alongside Cole.

One to watch: Jack Collison was one of a number of youngsters introduced by Zola last year and he continues a long line of youth academy products. A tidy little midfielder, he scored three times and assisted twice in his twenty appearances.

What they want to happen: Some off field stability is required as Iceland and its associated rich people have lost all their money. A mid-table finish and a cup run on the 20th anniversary of the 1980 FA Cup win would do nicely thanks.

Nightmare scenario: A smallish and quite inexperienced squad struggles to make an impact and Cole’s goals dry up.

Plan A: Play nice passing football in midfield and look for Cole to create chances out of nothing as he did last season. The addition of Jimenez should provide extra attacking threat while Steve Clarke will ensure the defence doesn’t concede too many.

Plan B, just in case: Try and get Ashton and Dyer fit, just for a little bit at least.

Predicted finish: 10th.

Why? After the appointment of Chelsea legend Gianfranco Zola and the poor start that followed, you could forgive West Ham fans for thinking another season of struggle was due last year. However, after some initial poor results, the appointment of Steve Clarke as Zola’s number two saw a change in fortune and respectable 9th place finish was achieved.

While Zola is a promising manager who puts his trust in attractive, attacking football, it’s the work of Clarke behind the scenes that gets West Ham where they are. His renowned ability to organise a defence coupled with his tactical work mean West Ham should enjoy another season of relative comfort.

Who'd have thought two Chelsea legends would be doing so well at West Ham.

Who'd have thought two Chelsea legends would be doing so well at West Ham.

The squad is a little on the small side and there is a lack of firepower but this should hopefully be addressed with rumoured targets such as Luca Toni and Eidur Gudjohnsen. The midfield is strong and nicely balanced with the underrated Scott Parker holding things steady allowing for Behrami, Collison and Noble to create further forward. Jimenez is an interesting gamble and he could well prove useful this season.

Keeping hold of Matthew Upson is key, what with Man City sniffing. The defence would be severely weakened if he left though Rob Green is a excellent keeper to have between the sticks. Overall I think it will be a quiet season for the Hammers, hovering around mid table for most of the season. Given the perilous state of their finances off the pitch I think the fans would be quite happy with 10th.

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T.

Season Previews 09/10 – Sunderland

14/08/2009

sunderland

Last Season: 16th.

Say hello to your new teammates: Lorik Cana, Frazier Campbell, Paulo da Silva, Darren Bent, Lee Cattermole.

Close the door on your way out: Michael Chopra, Dean Whitehead, Greg Halford, Dwight Yorke, David Connolly.

Predicted star: Darren Bent has lots of critics, many of them at Spurs but there’s no denying that he scores goals. He was Tottenham’s top scorer last season which says a lot about the way they work if they’re willing to let him go. In Kenwyne Jones he should have an ideal strike partner whose strength and ability to hold up the ball will complement Bent’s speed and play off the last man. I mentioned in a betting preview that you can get 50/1 on him to be top goalscorer which is a great each way bet. I reckon he’ll get 15 league goals for sure.

Needs a big year: Kieran Richardson was being touted as a regular England player for the problem left wing position not too long ago but he lost his way somewhat in the last season or two. He doesn’t have any real rivals in that area (Andy Reid is too slow to play wide) and he be looked to for service to the new look strikeforce.

One to watch: Lorik Cana was signed this summer from Marseille and immediately installed as captain, which shows how highly Bruce regards him. A tough tackling midfielder with an eye for goal, the 26 year old Albanian should fit right in the Premier League. I think the duo of him and fellow new signing Lee Cattermole will be amongst the better central midfield partnerships this season.

Hardman.

Hardman.

What they want to happen: Steve Bruce to work his magic and lift Sunderland away from the annual struggle to avoid relegation back to the Championship. Top half could well be in sight.

Nightmare scenario: Sunderland’s defence proves to be a weak link as they fail to respond to Bruce’s organisational skills.

Plan A: Become tough to beat by tightening up at the back. The midfield of Cattermole and Cana is aggressive and defensive enough to allow Malbranque and Richardson to create down the flanks. A big man and pace merchant duo up front will try to improve on Sunderland’s measly 34 goals last season.

Plan B, just in case: Play it direct to Jones, whose underrated creative skills will hold the play up before playing in Bent.

Predicted finish: 9th.

Why? There is cause for optimism at the Stadium of Light this season. After the drama of Roy Keane leaving mid-season and Ricky Sbragia only just keeping them up, there was a need for some stability and re-assessment. Bringing in Steve Bruce is quite a coup – I think he’s amongst the best managers outside the top four. The signings are no longer limited to Irish reserves, Man United rejects and other various cloggers.

Imaginative, good quality players have been brought in and most of the Wearsider’s needs have been addressed. A new look midfield will provide bite and improve the side’s away form. Cattermole was linked with Liverpool while Cana is an aggressive, destructive yellow card machine (this is a good thing though). Instant leadership on the pitch too.

Should work well with Bent.

Should work well with Bent.

Darren Bent does miss a lot but he also scores a lot and he should turn some of the 1-0 losses into draws and some of the draws into wins. If Bruce can get the defence organised as well as he did at Wigan then they will be much harder to break down. Only Paulo da Silva has been signed in defence but Anton Ferdinand is a good enough player to base the back four on. Looking to the future, Bruce has an extensive scouting/contacts network which will bear fruit in coming seasons (see Valencia, Palacios, Zaki etc). I think Sunderland are in line for an excellent season and led by Jones and Bent should get enough wins to progress to the top half of the table.

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T.

Season Previews 09/10 – Stoke City

13/08/2009

stoke

Last Season: 12th.

Say hello to your new teammates: Dean Whitehead.

Close the door on your way out: Seyi Olofinjana, Vincent Pericard.

Predicted star: Ryan Shawcross and Abdoulaye Faye will once again be dominant in defence while providing an attacking outlet for Rory Delap to aim at.

Needs a big year: James Beattie needs to continue the form he showed after signing in January. Too often in the past he has had good runs of form before drifting away and becoming ineffective and fat. Stoke will need his goals to ensure another season of Premier League football.

One to watch: Liam Lawrence scored 14 goals when Stoke got promoted from the Championship but injury limited his effectiveness last season. Now fit again, he should provide crosses and goals from the right wing.

What they want to happen: Another season where they’re difficult to beat, with home form keeping them safe once more.

Nightmare scenario: The direct tactics don’t work and Stoke’s lack of creativity sees them struggle this time round.

Plan A: Use free kicks and throw ins to supply ammunition to Fuller, Beattie, Faye and Shawcross.

Plan B, just in case: Delap -> box -> confusion -> goal.

Wing Commander Delap launches Stoke's aerial attack...

Wing Commander Delap launches Stoke's aerial attack...

Predicted finish: 14th.

Why? Stoke were never in trouble last season, their unique brand of simple yet effective football causing problems for many teams. As with any promoted side who wants to stay up, they realised that home form was key and they lost just four times at the Britannia Stadium while conceding just 15 goals. 35 of Stoke’s 45 points were gained at home and this compared favourably to all the teams below them as well as several above. It would have kept them up even if they had lost every single away game!

12th place was just reward for a team which was incredibly difficult to break down, with only Man Utd, Arsenal, Man City and Blackburn beating them by more than two goals. This was in part due to a team full of strong players who were 6ft plus and very well organised. Manager Tony Pulis kept things simple and played to Stoke’s strengths. Rory Delap’s throw in skill was one of them and for a while they would cause havoc against every team Stoke played. As powerful as a cross but more accurate, Delap assisted several goals. He wasn’t just a one trick pony though as he also provided hard work and assists from open play.

Got to love a 51 year old wearing a baseball cap.

Got to love a 51 year old wearing a baseball cap.

In terms of this season it’s as you were squad wise with only Dean Whitehead coming in from Sunderland. He’s another defensive midfielder to add to the riches the Potters have in that department. It will be harder for them this round but I don’t see too many problems in terms of staying up for a third season. If nothing else, Pulis can try and repeat the impact of last January’s signings if things are sticky mid-season. I don’t think he’ll need to though as Stoke should finish in around 14th place.

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T.

Season Previews 09/10 – Portsmouth

13/08/2009

portsmouth

Last Season: 14th.

Say hello to your new teammates: Frederic Piquionne, Steve Finnan, Aaron Mokoena, Antti Niemi.

Close the door on your way out: Glen Johnson, Peter Crouch, Djimi Traore, Sean Davis, Sol Campbell, Lauren, Noe Pamarot, Glen Little, Jerome Thomas.

Predicted star: Hard to pick one when there are hardly any left. A lot will depend on Niko Kranjcar who is the best player still at Fratton Park. He has already announced he will leave next summer but he’ll hopefully give Pompey fans one last season of creative play.

A golden goodbye?

A golden goodbye?

Needs a big year: David James will be very busy this season as a disintegrated Pompey side will no doubt struggle all season long. He showed signs of ageing last season and bear in mind he is 39 years old after all. If he has a good season however, he’ll go to the World Cup. The result of this is if he has a good season, he might just ensure Portsmouth don’t go down.

One to watch: Frederic Piquionne has been signed on loan from Lyon and scored twice on his pre-season debut against Rangers. He might be a good bet to score ten goals this season, which would go a long way to helping Portsmouth fight for survival.

What they want to happen: The takeover to go through, some players to come in rather than go out. Survival.

Nightmare scenario: The takeover doesn’t go through, Pompey go down, administration and the related consequences follow.

Plan A: Find sixteen players to play and form a bench. Try and use the duo of Belhadj and Kranjcar to create something down the left and use the pace and unknown quality of Piquionne to surprise a few people.

Plan B, just in case: Erm, rely on Kanu to produce a random bit of skill? He’s even older than James despite what his passport might say.

He gets stuck in his old age.

He gets stuck in his old age.

Predicted finish: 20th.

Why? I have nothing against Portsmouth and would sooner see many other clubs go down ahead of them but I just can’t see them staying up with the squad they currently have. Since last summer Peter Crouch, Jermaine Defoe, Sulley Muntari, Glen Johnson, Lassana Diarra and Pedro Mendes have all been sold, Sol Campbell released and Sylvain Distin likely to be on his way too before the window closes.

The reason for all this is that after spending big for several seasons and winning an FA Cup, the loans are now due and Pompey have no money with which to pay them with. No team could survive that level of talent leaving and they find themselves going into the new season with just 22 players, four of which are goalkeepers. The defence is old and slow and Steve Finnan will do nothing to improve it. There is some midfield quality in Diop and Hughes but neither of them are as good as Diarra. Kranjcar remains the player on whom they will completely rely on but he only played 21 league games last season having been seriously injured.

Piquionne.

Piquionne.

In terms of goals, Paul Hart will be relying on loanee Piquionne as you can’t rely on old man Kanu or Championship man Nugent. It’s an interesting signing but not one which will prevent the inevitable. As for Hart himself, you feel he’s only there as he’s cheap. It doesn’t really make sense that a man feted for his work with young players is at a club full of thirty somethings. The only hope for Portsmouth is that the takeover by al-Fahim goes through at some point before January, allowing for desperately needed reinforcements. Without this I think it will be an end to Pompey’s seven year stay in the Premier League.

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T.

Season Previews 09/10 – Manchester United

13/08/2009

man-utd

Last Season: 1st plus a Carling Cup win, Champions League final and FA Cup semi final.

Say hello to your new teammates: Michael Owen, Gabriel Obertan, Antonio Valencia

Close the door on your way out: Cristiano Ronaldo, Carlos Tevez, Frazier Campbell.

Predicted star: Wayne Rooney has it all set up. A central role should be his at last and he’ll now be the key creative outlet following Ronaldo’s departure. He undoubtedly has the talent to score 25 goals in all competitions as well as hand a bucket load of assists, it’s just a question of can it all fall into place.

This is my town now.

This is my town now.

Needs a big year: Antonio Valencia. Mr Ronaldo’s shoes are big ones to fill and Valencia is no 42 goal a season man. Indeed he only got six last season, but he has enough pace and skill to get into double figures at a team like Man United. I think the fact that no one expects him to be as good as Ronaldo means there should be less pressure on him. He has plenty of Premier League experience so should slot right in. I could add Michael Owen to this section too. Everyone seems to have written him off and while he will spend time out injured at points in the season, he will get at least ten goals if not 15 in all comps. For a free transfer you can’t really argue with that.

One to watch: It looks like there’s another crop of talented youngsters coming through the Old Trafford ranks and the likes of Federico Macheda, Danny Welbeck, Darron Gibson and the da Silva twins should provide plenty of interest and talking points over the course of 2009/10.

To me, to you.

To me, to you.

What they want to happen: Title number 19 preferably with Liverpool in 2nd again.

Nightmare scenario: Ronaldo’s transfer sees them drop all the way to 4th as they struggle to replace his goals and influence.

Plan A: With C-Ron gone it looks like it will be back a traditional 4-4-2 this year. The defence is solid and picks itself and Evra and Rafael will provide support down the flanks. Carrick will sit and playmake while a variety of options will compete to play alongside him. Valencia will have much less of a free, roaming role compared to Ronaldo and his job will be to feed Rooney and Berbatov with the latter playing further forward.

Plan B, just in case: Bring Owen off the bench and play it into the six yard box.

Predicted finish: 1st.

Why? So how come I think Man Utd will win their fourth straight title despite losing their best player? I’m not entirely sure to be honest and I’ve changed my mind quite a few times whilst writing these previews. The top four will be very tight but I believe Fergie’s men have the most solid base in their defence. A measly 24 goals were conceded last season and this included a record run of thirteen straight clean sheets. If you don’t concede at all in 24 of your games, it puts a lot less pressure on the attack who thus need to find just one goal.

Ronaldo dug them out of many a game but Rooney is capable of providing a similar level where week by week he finds a way of breaking through a stubborn defence. Owen is an interesting gamble and should prove a match winner on several occasions. If you think Tevez only got five league goals last season, then Owen will certainly beat that. As mentioned before, several youngsters were beginning to make a mark last year and Ferguson seems quite happy to go with the three experienced strikers plus Welbeck and Macheda in reserve.

Owen fears a merking.

Owen fears a merking.

Another of United’s great strengths is the ability to beat poor teams with no fuss, home and away. They failed to win just one game against the bottom twelve last year I believe and that was the opening game against Newcastle United. If you think that their record against the other members of the big four could actually be improved then you begin to see why it’s not unfeasible a fourth successive title is on its way.

The chequebook is apparently closed for the summer but I would be surprised if no one came in, though perhaps it won’t be until January. In any case, every year people think Ferguson is finished and Man Utd will step aside for someone else and nearly every year they are proved wrong. I’m happy to tip them for another and as the old adage goes, if you finish ahead of them you’ll probably be Champions yourself.

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T.

Season Previews 09/10 – Manchester City

13/08/2009

man-city

Last Season: 10th.

Say hello to your new teammates: This will take a while. Emmanuel Adebayor, Roque Santa Cruz, Kolo Toure, Carlos Tevez, Gareth Barry, Stuart Taylor.

Close the door on your way out: Elano, Ched Evans, Daniel Sturridge, Valeri Bojinov, Joe Hart, Jo, Felipe Caicedo (the last four are loans out)

Predicted star: Robinho. He scored 14 in his debut season despite many a tiff with Hughes as well consistently anonymous performances away from home. With the added steel purchased in defence and midfield as well the additional talent up front, he should be pushing around 20 this time round. Alternatively, what’s the betting they still struggle to succeed and Shay Given is relied upon to stop things getting embarrassing?

Needs a big year: Mark Hughes himself has no excuses now – this is his team playing out his ideas. On the pitch, Adebayor will want to show he’s worth a second double your wages deal in two years. He’ll quickly frustrate if he plays anything like last season where the only effort he put in was to stray offside. Roque Santa Cruz will look to score more than five league goals for only the second time in his ten year European career.

One to watch: All these stars are being signed but youth product Nedum Onouha could prove to be a rock alongside Toure if they fail to get in another centre back. He’s surely ahead of the fast regressing Richard Dunne in the pecking order now.

What they want to happen: Champions League qualification, no more no less.

Nightmare scenario: The team fails to gel and another season of inconsistency sees no higher than 7th.

The best signing they've made.

The best signing they've made.

Plan A: Looking at the players available you can expect Barry and De Jong/Kompany in the middle of the pitch with Ireland down the right flank and Robinho down the left. Tevez should partner Adebayor up front. Expect a fluent direct style which will utilise the skills of Ireland and Robinho who will be playing quite narrow. Wright-Phillips and Petrov are options if they want a system with traditional wingers.

Plan B, just in case: Play four up front, goodness knows they have the attacking players for it.

Predicted finish: 5th.

Why? A £100 million shopping spree is all very well but let’s not get too ahead of ourselves. Last season City finished in 10th place some 22 points behind 4th place Arsenal. You can’t make that kind of deficit up just like that. The signings made are on the whole good and solve a lot of the problems from last season but we mustn’t forget that it’s people like Barry and Tevez coming in not Kaka and Ribery.

Toure will improve the defence but I can assure you he isn’t the player he once was. He has a rather large behind these days and has certainly lost a yard of pace since getting malaria at the last African Nations Cup. The need still exists for a Lescott or an Upson alongside him. Barry is an excellent signing and perhaps the best value of everyone they brought in. He will provide the much needed solidity away from Eastlands and should form quite the midfield partnership with Kompany.

A lot of money for not a lot of goals.

A lot of money for not a lot of goals.

I’m willing to back Ferguson on the issue of Tevez. He had two years to look at him and obviously decided that he wasn’t worth keeping. Tevez is a hard worker and very skilful but he doesn’t score enough for a £25million striker. Adebayor on the other hand does, but I wonder if he will have lost his attitude problem and his offside problem to return to the striker of two seasons ago. He will still score plenty even if he hasn’t and I already foresee a badge kissing incident after he inevitably gets a goal against his old team in the fourth game if the season.

So overall I reckon the players bought are good enough to leapfrog five teams and become the best of the rest. They aren’t yet good enough to become the best of the best however and I wonder if they ever will be with Mark Hughes in charge. Big players and egos are needed to reach the elite and whilst he has them, I don’t think handling them sits especially comfortably with him.

He needs to 4th place to manage City in 2010/11 but I don’t think he’ll get it. This leads to somewhat a vicious circle. You can throw lots of money at second choice players to try and get you into the Champions League but fail because they’re second choice options, but the players who you really want will never join because you’re not in the Champions League.

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T.


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