Finishing one point behind an aging Chelsea hurt but wasn’t really that bad. If the Gaffer has erred it’s by being more sentimental than in previous years. We’ve needed two quality midfielders for at least two years. As hard as Darren Fletcher has worked and as much as he’s improved, I’d still like to see him coming off the bench more late in games simply because his passing is, at best, telegraphed, and at worse, just plain bad.
Hargreaves? We’ll know very soon if it’s yes or no, but I expect he’ll have to retire. Using Anderson, Berbatov and Carrick as rumour bait was all well and good, but I think the value of each one has plummeted. Indeed, rather than simply blaming the Glazers, getting rid of these three on the cheap must have seemed like bad business to everybody concerned if something substantial wasn’t being offered last season. Things are different now, however, with squads being cut to 25. It may be worth keeping Carrick just for European games when his fear of tackling causes United fewer problems.
Anyway, between now and the end of August, I’m saying my prayers that the Gaffer brings in Ozil and Lass Diarra.
If Javíer Hernandez and Kiko Macheda click as well as I expect them to, Berbatov’s prima donna angst will not be a major factor. I still feel that the ever-chubby Anderson can fulfil his promise, all the more so because, as things stand, the club will not get much for him. Whether he wants to leave or not, Anderson will be playing for his life once he’s fit.
As I write, Martin O’Neil has just resigned at Villa. Beyond the facts of life about budget restraints and the delicate health of Mrs. O’Neill, I think, as with Celtic, that he had taken this squad about as far as he was capable of taking it. As there are so many talented British players at Villa, I wonder if Lerner has decided to cash in on Agbonlahor, Young and Milner as a few teams are about to panic about their squads in order to obey the new rules. If Villa lowered their selling price a little or did some swap-and-cash wheeler dealing, they could still benefit, too. Milner would look awfully good in a United kit, although I hear that he has never forgiven Smudger for leaving their beloved Leeds United and wearing red. At any rate, I’m very curious as to who will take over at Villa. Surely, had Fulham not hired Sparky, he would be taking over at Villa Park.
Despite Chelsea’s obvious quality, I can’t see the squad succeeding as is just because they have too many aging and old players. John Terry hasn’t just lost a step; he’s on the verge of complete meltdown. As with United, a lot might happen in the transfer market between now and August 31, but I’d say they need more replenishing at Stamford Bridge than they do at Old Trafford. Selling Ashley Cole may turn out to be good if they can get some quality players from Real Madrid.
Arsenal and Spurs seem to be in a very similar boat. One more season of selective utter brilliance followed by shockers where things fall apart as a result of physical intimidation or schoolboy mistakes. I keep reading just how brilliant Gareth Bale is going to be, but the ugly one’s unforced mental errors promise more problems than the other moments where his blinding speed gobsmacks the opposition. Look for more of the same from Luka Modric and Cesc Fabregas: All to no avail!
I expect Manchester City to be carried on Carlos Tevez’s broad back for a huge chunk of this season. They will miss Craig Bellamy just as they have Richard Dunne. But will City fight more in the dressing room than on the field? Does Mancini have the wherewithal to keep such an ego-laden squad content? With so much talent, I expect a dogfight between them and a Liverpool bound to punch above its own weight under Hodgson. Come January, however, once Liverpool have new ownership in place and dosh to splash, I expect Hodgson will be a far wiser shopper than Mancini has been.
I certainly can’t see Everton or Fulham being as good as last season. Everton looked as exhausted a team as I’ve ever seen in their last two games. Indeed, I expect both teams to be running on fumes by January. The big overachieving shocker of this season will, I expect, be the brilliant coaching and astute shopping of Roberto Martínez and the brilliant Archie McLeish. I don’t think the Dummy Brummies are a flash-in-the-pan. Birmingham’s ownership may need to worry, however, that Lerner’s Villa will try to nick McLeish. Having been in charge enough to shape things his way, I expect Martínez’s Wigan Athletic will be solid and make less mistakes.
Relegation-wise, I expect Wolves to get second-season-syndrome and to crash back into the Championship along with Newcastle United and W.B.A. The one man show that is Charlie Adam will surely keep Blackpool up by a pubic hair, although I expect he’ll end up playing for one of the top six by this time next year, too. I hope Craig Levein is watching.