Tag Archives: Football

Big Andy, Little Luis, King Kenny in The Liverpool Circus


Andy Carrol Liverpool Football English Premier League

#bigandyliverpoolnumber9

This is undoubtedly Liverpool’s poorest season in the Premier League era. Prior to a ball kicked in earnest the ingredients seemed well balanced: a Kop hero at the helm, significant investment in on-field talent and a promising blend of youth and experience. How things have changed…

At FFTD we have certainly shared in the tribulations of Andy Carroll as he has stumbled through his first Premier League campaign on Merseyside as if being led by Jose Enrique’s daughter while blindfolded and on stilts. The sympathetic view regards England’s most expensive player as a work in progress and a scapegoat for a typically scathing media. Others have pointed to his exorbitant price tag as a negligible factor; something uncontrolled by Carroll creating unrealistic and impossible to fulfill expectations. Whatever the paradigm, A. Carroll is the laughing stock of the world wide web and the emblem of anti-Liverpool sentiment (accompanied by Suarez) much to the chagrin of reds across the planet.

Big Andy was snatched in a desperate last ditch deadline day scramble for a ready made Fernando replacement. While 35 large was excessive even for a league spiralling out of financial rationality, many pundits listed his arrival from Newcastle as a favourable dealing: strong, pacey, good feet and a devastating left peg – Peter Crouch times 5. What was to ensue is common knowledge, but we feel critiques have been continuously amplified out of proportion. Commentators should disregard his price tag for now, as that figure will be amortised over the entirety of his Liverpool career, and instead focus on the deeper-seeded problems at Anfield.

Compared to the good ol’ days on Tyneside, Liverpool’s number 9 has faced worse service than at a Fawlty Towers inspired B & B. Persistent injury complaints to Stevie G and the disappointingly ineffective Charlie Adam have curbed the stem of incisive delivery into forward lying positions. Indeed, the return of Gerrard has afforded Carroll with his best opportunities in a red shirt, and therefore his most promising displays – using deft touches to release the ever-dangerous Suarez. The Carroll/Suarez partnership has been a rarity across the season in a bane for supporters. The pairing is certainly still in its infancy, but has shown fleeting moments of endeavour and adroitness. The flourishing Rooney/Welbeck attack should be an archetypal blueprint. Most tellingly, Suarez, seemingly not someone to give plaudits lightly, is on record with:

 ‘I hope Andy plays with me all matches, he helps me in game’

In their pairing up front, King Kenny has a platform on which to build a more telling challenge next year. This year’s missing piece, rather than efficiency in front of goal, has been creativity in the middle together with the absence of Lucas to provide some solidity in front of a struggling back four (but that’s for another inquiry). Forthright transfer dealings could arrest their worrying slump towards mid table and replace the substandard, such as Downing, with genuine European talent. An attacking marshal in a central role as well as a crafty winger with trickery and a turn of pace are on top of the Anfield shopping list. To give them a hand, because we know they’re reading this, we’ve selected an eclectic mix of some realistic options for the Reds. If this doesn’t propel us into the upper echelons of footballing analysis…

Gaston Ramirez

It is surprising that more gossip fails to circulate one of Europe’s finest prospects in the 21 year old Bologna midfielder. Ramirez may be suited to the English brand with his powerful 6 foot frame and ability to legitimately fulfill a role without the ball. Gaston has continuously been compared to Kaka since bursting onto the scene, in terms of his graceful flair on the ball and his reportedly unflappable temperament. This trait would be a welcome asset to a growing collective of ill-disciplined players led by the pest that is Suarez. A number of other factors point to this deal being successful: Ramirez continues the Uruguayan flavour and should connect with Suarez and Coates, something that should not be understated, at just 21 he fits with Dalglish’s commitment to youth in his recruitment ideology and finally, a bid of £16.3 million is rumoured to be in the bolognaise stained hands of Bologna already.

Estimated Price: £16m                                                                          Rating: 8/10

Scott Sinclair

Sinclair has been at the fulcrum of an eye-catching season from the Welsh Premier League newcomers this season. 7 goals in 22 appearances is noteworthy enough, but he is ensconced in the top 10 for chance creation and assists across the league. While new arrival, Sigurdsson, may be a more convincing option, we think the Icelandic starlet will go to a bigger club with Champions League action, leaving Sinclair as a realistic investment. There are a number of drawbacks however. First, Sinclair’s strength is his penetrating runs from the left towards goal, more so than his delivery from wider areas, something Liverpool could use more desperately. Second, he has flourished in a 4-3-3 abundant with crisp passing and committed movement, two things that do not necessarily fit Liverpool’s attacking idiosyncrasies. Worth a look though.

Estimated Price: £6m                                                                            Rating: 6/10

Younes Belhanda

This Moroccan midfield maestro is a genuine contender as a long-term replacement for the ageing Gerrard. England’s biggest clubs have been lining up for Belhanda’s autograph for some time now, with the Montpellier man seen as a long term replacement for Scholes at United and previously Fabregas at Arsenal. But apparently, Liverpool are finally beating these clubs to something. Younes knows his way to the back of the net too, with 12 goals to accompany his 6 assists in his 30 games in Ligue 1. Newcastle have shown the worth of French imports in their midfield and if John Henry is to break the bank this year, it would be difficult to move past Belhanda. Prepare to see this name in your gossip columns over the months to come.

Estimated Price: circa £20m                                                               Rating: 9/10

Belhanda Montpellier Liverpool Zidane

A talent not to be ignored...

Matt Jarvis

Some of my Liverpool supporting friends have bemoaned that Jarvis is just the sort of player their club will sign – and we tend to agree. 2012’s Charlie Adam, Jarvis is too good for the championship, but too expensive for the mid table club he deserves. Instead, Kenny will come to the rescue, signing another overrated Englishman without any considerable raison d’être. Jarvis is the definition of the word “useful”, but offers little more, and his signing would mark a step sideways at best. While he has been more prolific than Downing, with 7 goals for the debacle that is Wolves, this prospect would be scant improvement to the squad. This will happen – just you wait.

Estimated Price:  £4m                                                               Rating: 4/10

Royston Drenthe

England’s visiting Real Madrid player, adorned with a simply stunning given name, has shown glimpses that would fulfill Liverpool’s lacking. Drenthe is a consistent nightmare for defenders, something that Anton Ferdinand, most particularly, would substantiate. While not necessarily a weakness on the red half of Merseyside, Drenthe adds a set piece menace to accompany his attacking repertoire. On the negative, Royston saves us from a half-hearted attempt at defending by keeping this element completely absent from his game. Additionally, he seems easily flustered on the pitch, a quality that in tandem with the child-like Suarez could be too much to bear for a restless fan base. If the Everton loanee is considered as a replacement for the departing Kuyt, then two more opposite propositions would be difficult to find – something that, along with his lackadaisical attitude, could seriously hamper any efforts to endear himself to a Kop favouring hard-working and dogged performers. Off-field issues may be noteworthy.

Estimated Price: Free                                                                                 Rating: 6/10

Junior Hoilett

If the PFA’s prize for young player of the season was a genuine accolade (maybe youth was determined by years playing professionally, rather than years of age) then Blackburn’s biggest weapon would head the list. Without even a mirage of attacking support from his contemporaries, save the Yak’s three game mid season rich vein of form (HAH!), the Canadian has been a clear standout amongst the shambolic on and off field season served up by Venkys and Steve Kean. Liverpool seem an appropriate destination for the championship-bound Hoilett, but several clubs will be throwing their cheque book at the out of contract winger. With his 3rd season of English football under his belt, Mr Hoilett could be the best possible option to Liverpool’s woes.

Estimated Price: Free Transfer                                                          Suitability: 9/10

 
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Everton: Howzit Steven Pienaar


Steven Pienaar Everton Football Soccer English Premier League Man United

S. Pienaar with his entry for #sloganonundershirtoftheyear

Everton are in the midst of their customary strong end of season finish that has seen them unbeaten in 6 league games and leading the league in key indicators such as possession, goals scored and chance creation. David Moyes’ merry men have found the back of the net 4 times in each of their last three outings; a first for the club. They have now conceded just the 15 times in the last 16 fixtures since the January window was jammed closed, with the only real blemish being in the midst of that comeback at Old Trafford. While before Christmas goals were the major struggle on Merseyside, the arrival of Jelavic, Pienaar and Gibson has produced something of a transformation for their attacking prowess. The most overwhelming proof: 15 goals in 5 exceeds the 13 from the previous 17 league encounters.

Of the trio, Pienaar and Gibson are proven Premier League performers, but the impact of Jelavic has been particularly impressive. Niki J, as he’s affectionately known, would be a veritable hype machine if it wasn’t for one Cisse in Newcastle – and his contribution should not be understated. The front man has been the definition of clinical, taking previously wasted half chances with aplomb. His report card reads 7 in 6 at the minute.

Pienaar has been as influential, and appears motivated in the blue shirt and tireless in his endeavours – two qualities sorely lacking at his unhappy, albeit fleeting, time in London. Standout efforts against Chelsea and United are particularly striking. Specifically, Pienaar’s distribution has been of the highest quality, not afraid to hold possession in more thought out and deliberate build ups. Pienaar is ahead of club averages in several leading barometers: he passes at 82% compared to the team average of 76%. Within this, his final third passing rate is 75%, a figure impressively high, particularly compared to the team’s 66% return. Just to stress this impressive return, across the league, attack minded midfielders typically score below the broader team average, as they are charged with the responsibility for defence splitting passes with a larger degree of difficulty and smaller margin of error.

Further, the South African provides a goal every 138 minutes compared to the next best in FFTD’s much loved Fellaini, who has an assist every 837 minutes and next in line right back Hibbert who provides at just above Marouane’s rate. Incidentally, since returning to Goodison, this is the highest rate of any player in the league. If that isn’t proof of the creativity and imagination of Everton’s best midfielder going forward, then we’ll bring his general chance creation figures for your perusal. Despite appearing only 11 times since January, he is already Everton’s 2nd most proficient manufacturer of goal scoring opportunities in absolute terms. He provides a chance every 28 minutes – well ahead of Leighton Baines at 44 minutes. (It’s worth noting that these figures could be skewed against Pienaar, as Baines takes set pieces to boost his output).

David Moyes is widely regarded for his shrewd squad management, continually scouring the bottom of Europe’s proverbial footballing pool for forgotten talent or untapped potential. But, this year, surely, Moyes should be admonished. The Toffees have moved sideways, trending to the downside, and the sale of Pienaar was an astoundingly poor piece of business. Often teams of lesser financial prowess rest on their povert-status as an excuse for mediocrity and this tag seems to fit Everton a little too snugly. The excuse of finishing above their red rivals is simply mere puff.

Instead of investing in lengthy surnames from Italy and the unproven youth of Greece, two signings that few would have thought could propel Everton from mid to top table, Moyes could have solidified his squad with Pienaar’s autograph. Jelavic is a genuine success even after just half a season and Everton’s future looks rosy with these two in tandem (look no further than their showing at Old Trafford last month). Pienaar’s sale is now a sunk cost and should not be a consideration in wooing him back to the club on a permanent basis. Signing the South African would be an admission of erroneous judgement a year ago, but not signing him would be repeating a mistake hampering progress into the future.

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Monday’s Magnificent Five


Torres Chelsea

#elnino

Each Monday we select our own 5 a side outfit from the weekend’s action. Think of it as our own Nike commercial in a steel cage on a floating island.

Goalkeeper

At the back we’ll opt for the impressive Ben Foster (West Brom) who stretches his man of the match run to 6 home games on the trot. The retired international produced another stellar display against Midland’s rivals at the Hawthorns including two fine one on one saves from Agbonlahor and a commanding presence around his own six-yard box. His autograph will be critical going forward for the seemingly established yo-yo club.

Defenders

While Roger Johnson was tempting (sic), we’ll take Gary Caldwell (Wigan) who kept the irresistible Newcastle front four to an afternoon of no returns. Caldwell seems a leader his teammates are willing to follow, adding inspiration that teams such as Wolves, Blackburn and QPR are severely lacking. His direction on the field is pivotal, being at the heart of Roberto’s improving back 3 experiment, with his dogged determination overcoming the on occasion unfashionable style.

Midfielders

Tomas Rosicky (Arsenal) is included as much for his month of April than the disappointing draw with Stoke. Criticised for basically not being Wilshere for much of 2012, he seems revitalised for no apparent reason, but we fancy Arsene’s slight change in touch line uniform to have done the trick. Whatever the case, the Czech international has finally produced in an Arsenal shirt, working both forward and back, to be the centre of the Gunners strong push towards a disappointing quarter final exit in Europe in 2013. Once again, Tomas found space between the lines against the Potters, providing the goal for RVP on a tray made of the finest in silver and adorned with the most opulent in decoration.

We’re cheating here and you can sue me (please! Could use some publicity) for fielding Luis Suarez (Liverpool) in an attacking role in behind our front man. Meh. Little Luis finally combined promise with outcome in a long overdue display of ruthless efficiency. The provocative Urugyuan, who is never too far from the headlines, was able to write his own this week, with a finish from 55 yards that the footballing public will have rammed down their throats for many years to come. Suarez’ creative flair was too much for the Canaries on an otherwise forgettable occasion.

Forwards

Fernando Torres (Chelsea), our absolute favourite at FFTD, leads the line after he finally produced the return his endeavours over recent times have deserved. It would be difficult to find a more criticised sportsman anywhere on Earth, but his long golden locks seem impervious to his boo boys. This effort was more than just goals, including tireless movement that proved far too much for an incompetent Rangers, outstanding hold up play that afforded Mata and Sturridge particularly, more space than Victor Valdes last Tuesday evening and a staggering work ethic that saw him tracking back to challenge in his own area at least four times by our count. Simply irrepressible. Nothing like finals footy to add a bit of motivation…

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Sunday’s Saturday Recap


wigan soccer football premier league

#wearepremierleaguewearepremierleague

It was an outstanding afternoon of football that saw a resurgent Wigan showcasing a brand more akin to European endeavours than relegation struggles and a mercurial Luis hatrick as the standout results. This is FFTD’s Sunday review:

We’ll start at the Hawthorns where a fledgling Aston Villa visited their traditional rivals with the chance to steer clear of a nervy month of May. Instead, it was the Baggies who looked the more likely, with Dorrans, Brunt and Thomas in particular finding ample space within a disorganised McLeish setup. At times it was difficult to see a holding player for Villa and in the end it was the much maligned Shay Given and a dubious goal line clearance from Hutton that rescued a point away from home. Their 16th draw of the season is a decent away point, but does little to arrest their worrying slide towards a Championship ready to swallow them whole (maybe spitting out the likes of Bent, Agbonlahor and Dunne to fuel the media’s transfer addiction).

Next we travel to Wigan where two of the form sides of the league square off in a match that had bearing on both ends of the table. In any other week, this would be the match of the round, but apparently only Mr Martinez got the memo with his side producing a scintillating opening 45 minutes, a just reward for Dave Wheelan and his managerial stickability. The Wigan front four were dynamic with the electric Moses an ever-present threat. The back 3 was resolute lead by the usual brilliance of their Omani shot stopper allowing a red hot Newcastle collective scant opportunity in front of goal. Wigan have grabbed 15 points from their last 7 outings, including wins over United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Newcastle in that run, to see them surely secure Premier League football in 2013, with winnable fixtures against Blackburn and Wolves to follow.

For Newcastle, it was a day of extreme disappointment; possibly a day that has been looming for some time. After such an emphatic string of victories, a loss was just around the corner, and with City and Chelsea looming, this result could spell the end of their admirable top 4 challenge. Their irresistible attacking quartet were off colour in the final third, producing just the 2 shots on goal for the afternoon. Similarly, their impressive defensive pressure was left on Tyneside in what must surely be their worst day of this campaign. Pardew can look forward to trips to the glamour and glitz of Romania, Poland and the Ukraine next season.

Ironically, the game with no bearing on the league produced a fine spectacle with an entertaining 4-4 for the second time in a week. Swansea and Wolves left their defensive plans on the training paddock and decided goals were a more acceptable option. For Wolves, who have conceded a whopping 79 times, they may have been more accustomed to such a flippant, carefree defensive attitude, but our Welsh brethren looked less than impressed after capitulating from their 4-1 stranglehold. Make sure you get the highlights from this one.

Sunderland and Bolton provided another absolute belter that must be disheartening for the precariously poised Trotters who may have used up any emotional impetus from the fortunes of Fabrice. While Coyle was upbeat about his side’s chances and Davies’ late equaliser may have felt like a point saved rather than 2 that slipped away, coming into the game, many pundits earmarked this as a chance to move clear of serious trouble. Instead, Bolton remain well and truly in the mire of relegation and now three points from a home tie with the Albion may not be enough. Instead, they require possibly more than a point from tough away trips to Spurs and the Britannia to book their place in the league going forward.

In a game less consequential than a UN summit, Liverpool travelled to Carrow road without their glistening starlet in Andy Carroll, but with a rampant Suarez who in the end was the difference between the sides. Rumblings from within the Kop about the outdated Dogleish have been momentarily quashed and a strong finish in the league and cup success could keep King Kenny in a job for 2013 – an unfavourable outcome in FFTD’s opinion. Don’t watch this game whatever you do, but catch that Suarez goal from here.

I hate Stoke – so yeh whatever…


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Who is Mr Vilanova?


terry connor?

terry connor?

 

With the somewhat unexpected departure of Pep earlier today, the Catalan giants acted swiftly to appoint Tito Vilanova as their new gaffer. Here’s FFTD’s exclusive profile of the man currently holding one of football’s most sought after posts:

Name: Francesc “Tito” Vilanova Bayo

Age: 42

Previous Playing Experience: Hailing from the relatively unknown Bellcaire d’Emporda (google that place and you’ll see what I mean) Vilanova is a graduate of the famous La Masia. He graduated under the stewardship of Cruyff in a cohort many label as the finest of all time.  Tito never really excelled as a player after emerging through the Barcelona youth system to become a regular fixture in Spain’s second tier. He formally retired in 2002.

Managerial Credentials: Tito became the director of football at Tarrassa FC almost immediately following the finalisation of his playing days. From there, he became the long time sidekick to Pep, having served his apprenticeship from day 1 of Guardiola’s endeavours, starting at the lowly 4th tier of Spanish football with Barcelona’s second side.

Comments: Vialnova has remained remarkably discrete in his role at the Spanish giants, with some confusion even surrounding the order of his last names. Towards the end of 2011, Tito suffered a medical complication with his parotid gland that saw him take a short break from the game, returning over the new year period to consistent praise from both the coaching and playing staff at the club. Indeed, Guardiola dedicated his player of the year accolade in 2011 to his assistant:

“From the bottom of my heart I would like to dedicate this title to Tito Vilanova, my friend, companion, assistant, who is always there, even though he has not been with us that much lately.

“Tito, this one is for you.”

Vilanova’s relationship with his array of stars at the club appears his major selling point with an obvious rapport in existence. This was particularly evident in the continual tributes paid to him and the visible emotions on display upon his return to coaching early in 2012. By all reports, Vilanova is a better man manager than tactician, dealing with the players in a more direct fashion than the stand-offish Guardiola. The likes of Messi, Xavi and Iniesta have all labelled Tito’s main strengths as his ability to explain concepts in a clear and understandable fashion in Graham Hunter’s book, Barca: The Making of the Greatest Team in the World.

Tito is not completely new to the role, having taken the helm infrequently upon occasion that Guardiola has abstained from his regular duties. In saying that, the selection is still somewhat of a gamble, but shows the trust and faith all those involved in the upper echelons of the club place in their internal structures to produce both on and off the field. Continuing to recruit in house sends an undoubtedly strong message to the footballing community.

Tito was certainly not the only “in-house” choice available and rest assured he’ll be front and centre come round 1 next time around.

 

 

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An Alternate Pecking Order…


How it Works:

This is our attempt at ranking the sides according to their expectations with position 10 being a perfect meeting of predictions with reality, position 1 representing maximum outperformance and 20 signalling quite the opposite. For example, United and City were largely expected to compete for the title, hence they’ll be stuck mid table in our rating system, and Swansea/Norwich were expected to take their parachute payments straight back to the Championship, meaning they’ll feature towards the top.

 

#toonarrific

#toonarrific

1. Newcastle.

It’s difficult to recall the seemingly dire context that the Geordie’s season was facing from the outset. With the departure of Barton, Carroll, Enrique and Nolan (amongst others) prior to the season and the arrival of almost no one, save for unknowns such as Cabaye, many were predicting a difficult period for Mike Cashley and his boys. Further, there were murmurs of discontent around the tactical nous of Alan Pardew, who had been labelled as dour and unimaginative pointing to a season of discomfort on Tyneside. Much has been written around the Moneyball renaissance of the club having laid the blueprint for those perennially facing the malaise of mid table to step up as realistic challengers to the traditional top 4. See more around about here:

2. Norwich

I’ve revisited a feature in fourfourtwo from July 2011 that included all 10 football “experts” tipping the Canaries to face the drop. Not so. Mr Lambert has combined the three elements of a successful first season in the top flight: a goal scoring striker (Holt), Solidity at the back and Determination/Self Belief. Norwich have epitomised efficiency; beating the teams below them at home, and turning Carrow Road into a tricky encounter whether your name is RVP or Gary Caldwell.

3. Swansea

In a similar vein to Norwich, the Swans have proven that Welsh football does deserve its spot in the English top flight. Bringing a fluid style to the League, Brendan Rodgers has given supporters a refreshing change from the typically drab brand served up by some of the sides adjacent to the Welshmen on the table. As with Norwich, they’ve secured their defence first, with Ashley Williams surely developing into one of the more underrated players in the league. Next they’ve added proven creative quality all over the pitch, particularly with the mercurial Sigurdsson since January. Lastly they’ve made the Liberty into a place of respect and trepidation for visiting supporters.

4. Arsenal

The North Londoners were coming off a somewhat tumultuous summer and were facing constant taunts about their youth and lack of physicality when that 8-2 happened. The Gunners displayed a resolve that many believed they were incapable of, to turn their campaign into a success having ensconced themselves squarely into European football for next year. They’re just a decent centre back and a Wilshere away from a serious title challenge in 2013. While 4 may seem a tad high, rewind to September and you’ll recall the back pages awash with the demise of the Emirates and Mr Wenger.

5. Tottenham

While Spurs now have a veritable title contending squad on paper, their current disappointing standing should not undermine their outperformance for the majority of the season. Much maligned in recent times, the Yids have surely been distracted by off-field managerial developments, undoing the considerable progress made in the first 2 thirds of the league. With the easiest run in, the Londoners could still secure the coveted fourth position that could be crucial in retaining the spine of their carefully constructed side.

6. West Bromwich Albion

The Baggies have avoided second-season-syndrome with aplomb under the masterful guidance of Woy. They continue to operate within the tightest of budgetary constraints and have uncovered even more quality free-bees in Gareth McAuley and Billy Jones. They look to have established themselves as part of the Premier League furniture; the way it should be for a club with such a richly developed history. Improving on 11th and 47 points from last time around will be an outstanding achievment.

7. Manchester City

I’ll put the blue half of England’s footballing capital just ahead of their red counterparts, as even though several pundits predicted Tevez et al to win from the outset, actually following through, and putting the title within their own grasp with 3 fixtures remaining is another story all together. Distracting European struggles and the oft unfathomable off field antics of Super Mario and his golfing buddy in Tevez couldn’t sway Mancini from his own rights of passage. Most importantly, the Blue Moon Rising looks set to continue, with a 2013 that could see further development both on and off the pitch.

8. Manchester United

Sir Alex and his boys are tracking squarely to where we expected and slot neatly into the striker’s jersey. Disappointing cup and European adventures have marred a season that has produced results, but has been enveloped by a pervasive backwards looking bias with the continued dominance of Scholes and to a lesser extent Giggs. A major plus is the flourishing partnership between Welbeck and the hairy-again Rooney – but their season hasn’t been anything spectacular.

9. Chelsea

With an ageing squad many feared the worst, but the revelation of Mata, the obvious benefit of experience and the defiant change in fortunes under Di Matteo, has seen Chelsea finish the season in a strong manner. While missing European football would be nearly calamitous for our favourite Russian oligarch, the Blues have beaten Barcelona somewhat convincingly in Europe and could still lift the much sought after symbol of power that is the European Cup. So much relies on the final month of the playing year for this side that will surely undergo a rampant reconstruction through the summer.

10. Everton

It still bemuses to watch the Toffees struggle through January, leading to rumblings about the Moyes’ use by date and the shoestring budget, before predictably embarking on their customary second half run that includes big team scalps and persistently positive results. Lower-top half with a decent cup run is getting a little predictable and if marked improvements aren’t forthcoming over the next 2 seasons, the Blues will begin the slide downwards. This is not a league for standing still.

11. Sunderland

The Wearsiders have made progress under O’Neill but have somewhat failed to capitalise on their outstanding vein of form over the festive period and sit in a disappointing lower half position. Not too much to report here – bang on average for me.

12. Fulham

Fulham could easily be lower, but expectations of a realistic European push should be tempered with the addition of a new manager and an array of fresh faces gracing Craven Cottage. In promising signs for the future, many of their signings have shown enough to suggest an optimistic outlook. The continued development of Dembele into a proven talent (should progress to Ben Arfa next year), Dempsey into a genuine top-liner (should progress to Arteta next year) and Pogrebnyak into a prolific sharp-shooter (should progress into Ba/Cisse next year) could spell a strong challenge in 2013 from the noisy neighbours from London.

13. Wigan

In Roberto Martinez, Wigan has one of the finest young managers in football and their apparent survival for another season can be largely attested to the gaffer and his swelling reputation in the game. On paper the worst squad in the league, Wigan haven’t really progressed, nor digressed through 2011/12 and could find themselves feeling a form of final day deja vu.

14. QPR

The Premier League new boys were expected to be the strongest of the sides coming up, but for much of the season the R’s have struggled to build any form of momentum. In saying that, their best run has developed at the pointy end and Mark Hughes is using every reserve of his managerial experience to build a case for 2013 in the top division. With serious financial investments being made, it is disappointing to see the side still scrapping for survival, but in the end, 17th and up will be acceptable.

15. Bolton

Bolton’s primary objective from the outset will always be 40 points as quickly as possible and a team of their calibre should not be struggling as they are. Bolton have been entrenched in the relegation doldrums for more than 50% of the footballing year and if they return to the first division, it will be due to inept off-field dealings that saw the departure of Elmander and Sturridge without replacements – leaving an attack devoid of quality in Klasnic, N’gog and Kakuta. Could easily be lower than 15th.

16. Stoke

The Potters invested heavily with a number of seemingly astute purchases of proven top-flight quality. Tony Pulis’ fantastical ride may be grinding to a halt, however, with a year of taking steps firmly in the wrong direction. Europe was simply too much to ask for a seemingly ageing and threadbare squad. Their no-frills and, more than occasionally, dour style has lead to more detractors than supporters, as the likes of Swansea have shown it is possible to survive without wasting on average 13.8% of your games on Rory Delap’s arms. Distinctly below average.

17. Blackburn

When it emerged that Steve Kean’s new employers were unaware of the possibility of relegation, the tone was set for an overwhelmingly forgettable campaign for all those involved. There have been few protagonists from this sorry saga to emerge with any flicker of credibility, maybe Hoilett and Yakubu are the only ones, and while still undecided, relegation seems deserved for this season of underperformance.

18. Aston Villa

Villa were a difficult team to place. Almost everyone questioned the arrival of the Big Eck to the Midlands, but I’m sure few could sincerely predict the woeful events that have followed. Watching the Villians is a truly difficult thing at current, with consistent fan discontent from the terraces juxtaposed with a non-existant goal threat on the pitch. Villa Park has become the worst place for football and is a crude characterisation of everything that is wrong and outdated with the English game. Too many quality departures over recent years.

19. Liverpool

So much has been written that any expansive comment feels unnecessary. In a year that produced such rampant, flagrant spending and such inept on field performances only Liverpool and their continued arrogance could ensure they dominate footballing rhetoric. Welcome to mid table anonymity Mr Dogleish.

20. Wolves

In the end, it wasn’t third time lucky with the West Midlander’s challenge whimpering into submission with the shambolic Terry Connor at the helm. Wolves were devoid of creativity up front, apart from the sometimes dangerous Fletcher, and were woeful at the back with summer signing and captain Roger Johnson becoming the home fan’s boo boy early on in the piece. With stadium expansions well underway, the club could face serious financial struggles over the next 5 years.

So there we have it:

Newcastle, Norwich, Swansea, Arsenal, Tottenham and West Brom take the European places with a season of outperformance. City, United, Chelsea, Everton, Sunderland, Fulham and Wigan are aligned with pre-season hypotheses. QPR, Bolton, Stoke, Blackburn, Villa, Liverpool and Wolves end a diffcult season.

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