Posts Tagged David Moyes
The European football season is finally coming to life, bringing an end to enduring so many week(end)s of making do with football from the FIFA Confederations Cup, the cadet European Championships and the Women’s European Championships even, for those of us feeling that deprived.
Not any longer, as the Bundesliga and Ligue 1 season kicked off over the weekend just as the Community Shield, the curtain raiser to the Premier League season, was contested for between Manchester United and Wigan Athletic on Sunday at Wembley. And it took all of six minutes for Robin van Persie to put the Red Devils in front and by so doing, reiterate the fact of his importance to the club’s, and new manager David Moyes’s success or otherwise this season.
The Dutchman underlined that fact with a second goal just before the hour mark of what was a largely underwhelming 2-0 win over a Wigan side now of the Championship and starting life after manager Roberto Martinez who is now at Everton. Yes, United could have done a whole lot better but as has been the mantra in competitive matches, getting the win is what matters and how it’s got is secondary.
Ask PSG, that would’ve paid a million over the asking price if there was one on offer for a win at Montpellier in the season opener of Ligue 1. The filthy rich, expensively assembled overwhelming favourites to win the league Parisians instead settled humbly for a 1-1 draw at the club that upset the odds in 2012.
Remy Cabella’s 10th minute goal put Montpellier ahead while Maxwell, of all players in PSG’s firepower, equalised for the visitors on the hour mark. The other billionaire club on the contrary started off with a win though for long it seemed Monaco would start off in similarly tipid manner as their money league rival.
Goals in the 82nd and 87th minute from Rivelliere and Radamel Falcao (1-0 Cavani, yes it’s on in case you didn’t know) however gave Monaco a 2-0 win at French Cup holders Bordeaux. The principality club now share fourth spot with fellow newcomers to Ligue 1 FC Nantes that also won 2-0 at home to Bastia on Saturday.
Elsewhere, likely title contender Olympique Lyon got the biggest win of the weekend in a nice 4-0 thrashing of Nice, Olympique Marseille lie third following a 3-1 win at newcomers Guingamp, Lille won by a lone goal at home to Lorient as did St. Etienne, that began life without Pierre-Emerick Aubemayang, away at Ajaccio.
St. Etienne probably would be joint leaders with local rivals Lyon if the Gabonese striker was still with them, instead he was in Germany helping last season’s Bundesliga runner-up Borussia Dortmund to a big 4-0 win at Augsburg, scoring a hattrick on his league debut for Jurgen Klopp’s side with Robert Lewandowski putting aside off season squabbles to smash home the fourth from the spot after assisting Aubemayang to his third.
The biggest win of the weekend however came from the capital where Eintracht Frankfurt, one of last season’s surprise performers, crumbled to a 6-1 demolition at newly promoted Hertha Berlin. The other newcomer to the Bundesliga, Braunschweig played well but were unfortunate to lose 1-0 at home to Werder Bremen on Saturday.
Title holders Bayern Munich got their campaign underway on Friday with a routine 3-1 win at home to Borussia Monchengladbach, before sending out a ‘second string’ side to record a 4-1 win on Sunday with Mario Gotze marking his return from injury with a brace there.
Elsewhere, Klaas Jan Huntelaar got himself an early birthday present after netting a brace in Schalke’s 3-3 draw at home to Hamburg, Bayer Leverkusen got a 3-1 win at home to Freiburg, Wolfsburg lost 2-0 at Hannover 96, Stuttgart lost 3-2 at Mainz and Hoffenheim played out a 2-2 draw at home to Nurnberg.
While business is only getting started in Europe, matchday 24 matches were played in Nigeria, with Warri Wolves going a point clear at the top of the standings after playing out a 1-1 draw at Lafia against Nasarawa United, a match in which Nasarawa failed to score two penalties. Pillars follow in second place with 40 points after losing 3-1 at Shooting Stars behind closed doors in Ibadan.
Elsewhere, Bayelsa United is now third with 39 points thanks to a 3-0 win over El-Kanemi Warriors, while Enyimba follow in fourth place, a point behind, after getting a 2-0 win over Nembe City in Aba. Other results saw 10-man Kwara United claim a lone goal win at Heartland, Rangers beating Kaduna United 2-1 in Enugu, Dolphins losing 3-0 at Sunshine Stars and Akwa United getting a lone goal win at home to Wikki Tourists thanks to a 93rd minute strike.
Away from football, Rafael Nadal eased to the Rogers Cup title in Montréal, his 48th win in 51 matches this year, with a straight sets 6-2 6-2 demolition of Milos Raonic, a win that will see him rise to third on the new world rankings behind Novak Djokovic, whom he beat in the semis, and Andy Murray who lost in the doubles final there.
In the women’s event of the Roger’s Cup held in Toronto, Serena Williams romped to the title with a 6-2 6-0 win over Sorana Cirstea of Romania, as she prepares for the final grand slam of the year in New York in a few weeks time.
Another woman in fine form is Nigeria’s Blessing Okagbare who leapt a distance of 6.99 meters to win a silver medal in the women’s long jump event at the ongoing IAAF World Championships in Moscow on Sunday.
The 24 year old will now turn her focus to the sprints where she is one of the favourites to claim gold in the 100m, having posted a personal best time of 10.78 seconds to win the 100m event at the recent London Anniversary Games, just a blink off the world leading time of 10.77 seconds posted earlier this season by Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce who also is competing in Moscow.
The biggest headline so far from the Russian capital came from none other than Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt who claimed gold in the men’s 100m final with a relatively slow 9.77 seconds, ahead of American Justin Gatlin and another Jamaican Nester Carter who finished third ahead of two more Jamaicans… yet it’s Americans testing positive for dope. Life.
Great Britain’s Mo Farah beat off the challenge of Ethiopian Ibrahim Jeilan to win 10,000m gold, and is now preparing for the 5,000m race as he aims to do a double-double as winning the 5,000m would make him world and olympic champion over both distances, a feat which has been achieved only by Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia between 2008 and 2009.
While Farah and Okagbare prepare to etch their names in history, a number of international friendlies will be played during the week including the Mandela Challenge between South Africa and Nigeria’s Super Eagles in Durban on Wednesday.
Also on Wednesday, England will face rivals Scotland in Wembley as part of events to mark the FA’s anniversary, Portugal will play the Netherlands, Italy face Argentina, Belgium host France in my pick of the bunch, Germany face Paraguay and world champions Spain play against Ecuador.
Wrapping up, the IBM personal computer was released on this day in 1981 while Cleopatra in 30BC committed suicide by letting asps bite the life out of her. Extreme. Unlike her, people such as tennis legend Pete Sampras, Dutch striker Klaas Jan Huntelaar, Community Shield winner Tom Cleverly and AC Milan forward Mario Balotelli will value life more today as they become a year older.
Many happy returns of the day to them, and to my friends Deji, Lorine and everyone else born today. To every one else, have yourselves a pleasant week ahead.
When he was on a well earned sabbatical in New York, many football fans must have dreamed of what it would be like to have the man who led Barcelona through a spell of domination in world football join their respective favourite clubs and replicate his success with the Catalans.
It was a rude shock hence, when Pep Guardiola was announced as heir to the dynasty of Juup Heynckes, a man who at the time was on his way to lead the Bavarians to a spectacular treble, with the masterclass over Pep’s former club the crystal bubbles swimming all in that chilled glass of Heineken.
Pep’s ascension at Bayern’s helm was the start of what is turning out to be arguably the busiest and most high profile transfer window ever, with Mario Götze’s switch to Bayern from Borussia Dortmund, a move announced weeks before both met in that dramatic Champions League final which the then Dortmund player unfortunately sat out via injury, causing further stir well before the window opened.
The champions of Europe had made two formidable signings to an already formidable team, and they were made before two of the three titles in the treble were won. Psychological bullying to go with the on-field one they imposed on all season last season.
If Bayern, a team that lost only three matches all of last season; two of those coming at home weirdly, still found it necessary to add Pep and Götze to a team well groomed by a departing Heynckes, a team that had made the Champions League final in three of the last four seasons, then others needed to show their ambition in upstaging the German giants… or at least try to keep up.
Enter Pep’s former club Barça that finally secured the talent of Brazilian ace Neymar from Santos, a player the Catalans could play behind their superman Lionel Messi. But more importantly, Neymar is the signing Barça could rely on when a (12/13) Bayern or (11/12) Chelsea come along with kryptonite.
Then there is Paris Saint-Germain, the French club that has only itself to blame for losing on away goals to Barça in last season’s Champions League quarterfinal.
Le Parisiens paid over €100m to acquire fearsome striker Edinson Cavani from Napoli, defender Marquinhos from AS Roma and left back Lucas Digne from Lille OSC, signings which should be enough to quell the homefront threat of newly promoted AS Monaco that so far have signed Radamel Falcao, Joao Moutinho, Jeremy Toulalan from a very sorry Malaga and James Rodriguez among others.
But the loss of the man responsible for bringing in Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva, Ezequel Lavezzi and Lucas Moura, Director of Football Leonardo, no thanks to his feud with the LFP, could be detrimental on the long run. Cavani’s arrival was his last act and the spotlight will now turn to Laurent Blanc who, for now, is a temporary replacement for Carlo Ancelotti whom they had to let go for Real Madrid.
Los Blancos, losing semi-finalists in the last three Champions League seasons, parted company with manager Jose Mourinho following a fiasco of a season that saw them come out tops in the 2012/13 series of the El Clasico but fall short where it mattered elsewhere, culminating in the embarrassing defeat to Dortmund in the Champions League semi-final first leg.
Florentino Perez has since paid top dollar to get Ancelotti as Mourinho’s replacement, Isco from a sorry Malaga and Asier Illarramendi from Real Sociedad while also soothing the ego that is Cristiano Ronaldo and holding on to Gonzalo Higuain till interested clubs do like he’s done in the market or the window closes – whichever comes first.
The latter in the above has frustrated Arsenal’s bid to bolster the perennially underachieving talented club, forcing the north Londoners to consider bidding £40m for Liverpool forward Luis Suarez. Which begs the question, why not hand that amount to get Higuain who is your true target in the window?
If indeed Arsenal are looking to piss Real off or force their hand in the Higuain deal by bidding for Suarez, who is admired at the Bernabeu, the Gunners could end up the biggest loser since Real have nothing to lose really while Liverpool aren’t a financially weak side, the type Arsenal enjoy poaching.
The Reds themselves have signed a few in order to help their cause of performing far better in the league at least, although losing out to Dortmund in the race for Mkhitaryan’s signature from Shakhtar Donetsk put a bad dent on that.
Along with the signing of Pierre Emerick Aubemayang from St. Etienne and the will to see Robert Lewandowski play in the yellow and black for the coming season (at least), his final season on his contract with them, Jurgen Klopp has a side that can perform as well as it did last season. You will recall, they lost the Bundesliga to Bayern, lost in the quarterfinal of the German Cup to Bayern and lost in the final of the big one to… yes, them again.
It would be interesting to have Dortmund drawn in the Champions League group stage with Real and Manchester City again. Would Klopp still come out top of the group with a smirk on him? Would Ancelotti and Zidane have made Real better? Can City qualify from the group stage in their third attempt? That would be Manuel Pellegrini’s true test in his first season as the manager of the ‘noisy neighbours’.
Employed from a very very sorry Malaga side, Pellegrini has pretty much stated that ‘eez nuffin’ for City to win the Premier League and do very well in Europe. Time will tell. For now, the arrivals of Fernandinho, Jesus Navas and Alvrado Negredo hold promise for the Citizens, as does the impending confirmation of Stevan Jovetic’s signing.
The activity at the blue side of Manchester poses a real threat to reigning league champions Manchester United that are still sulking from the inevitable retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson and the appointment of David Moyes whose presence is understandably underwhelming.
There’s also the loss of the race for Thiago Alcantara’s signature to none other than Bayern Munich as well as Kevin Strootman’s departure to AS Roma from PSV Eindhoven after being well followed for long by the Red Devils.
They do have Robin van Persie’s goals to bank on but he can only play so many games on the trot, which makes reinforcing the squad with a quality signing or two; hence, going (rather vainly) after Cesc Fabregas, and/or (mostly ‘or’) keeping Wayne Rooney (since he’s now an accomplished midfielder, to his subtle dismay) Moyes’ most important preseason task.
The thought of keeping a player at a club where he’s previously had transfer trouble with may entirely not be a good idea, leaving a hopeful silver lining for the likes of Arsenal and Chelsea who are very interested in the 27 year old Nike UK athlete.
Why Chelsea would want Rooney following the signings of Andre Schurlle and Marco van Ginkel, coupled with the return from loan of Kevin de Bruyne and Romelo Lukaku to complement a squad comprising Juan Mata, Eden Hazard, Oscar, Victor Moses, Ramires, Demba Ba (yes!) and Fernando Torres (no sarcasm here)… just why? To bully the competition of course.
Otherwise City wouldn’t have bought those players, PSG probably didn’t need to get Cavani though Digne and Marquinhos were needed, sort of. Barça too probably didn’t need to get Neymar but Bayern left quite the scar.
Real would tell you Illarramendi’s for the future and Isco adds depth to a squad headed in that department by Mesut Ozil, ably backed by Luka Modric and Kaka… and Juventus, Carlos Tevez and Fernando Llorente to complement Fabio Quagliarella, Matri and Sebastien Giovinco?
Bayern tops all that with Gotze and Alcantara joining up with Thomas Muller, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Franck Ribery, Arjen bipolar Robben, Mario Mandzukic, Javi Martinez, Xherdan Shaqiri, Luis Gustavo… and that’s just the midfield up. So unfair. Oh, and Toni Kroos who sat out the titles’ run-in last season injured. Such bulls!
It’s no contest that these are the clubs that would figure prominently in their respective leagues’ title race. Their performance among Europe’s elite is where the spotlight would really be.
Finally, the bullish nature of these clubs just goes to show how well thought through by UEFA the Financial Fair Play rule was, a rule that has as its victims this season an oh so verily very very sorry Malaga and Turkish side Besiktas among others whose financial muscles aren’t so Tyson.
Almost a week after the first year rememberance of Rashidi Yekini’s demise, another icon of Nigeria football joined our legendary goalscorer at the great beyond when Joseph ‘Jossy Lad’ Ladipo passed away.
The former Super Falcons coach, who led the female national team to third place at the 2008 Africa Women’s Championship and gold at the 2007 All Africa Games in Algiers died at his Ibadan residence on Thursday, aged 72 following months of treating a heart ailment.
Jossy Lad’s former club Shooting Stars meanwhile won by a lone goal at home to third placed Sunshine Stars in a Nigeria Professional Football League match on Wednesday. The win put 3SC in sixth place on 15 points, behind Kwara United that beat Kaduna United 2-0 in Ilorin on goal difference.
In other results, Bayelsa United defeated Heartland by a lone goal and rose to fourth with 16 points, a point ahead of four teams, while Enyimba drew goalless at Lobi Stars and dropped to 13th with 13 points, prompting the Aba club’s management to put its players on half pay till a marked improvement in results is achieved.
Kano Pillars now top the league on 19 points thanks to a 2-0 win at home to seventh placed Nasarawa United while Rangers remain second on 17 points ahead of Sunshine on goal difference despite their match at Wikki Tourist being postponed in light of Rangers match against CS Sfaxien of Tunisia in the CAF Confeferations Cup on May 19.
Nigerian club football may be experiencing a decline on the continent but Nigeria’s national football team maintained her recent ascendency by rising into the top 30 on the latest FIFA world rankings while Spain maintained top spot ahead of Germany and Argentina.
The Super Eagles now occupy 28th position on the rankings to be Africa’s fourth best team in the world ahead of the FIFA Confederations Cup next month in Brazil. The Brazilians on their part remain in 19th place on the rankings, a place behind 1998 world champions France.
England’s national team remain the seventh best nation on the rankings that saw only three changes in the top 20 but attention in the Queen’s country focused more on a knight in the north who finally put down his armour.
It isn’t that his retirement wasn’t ever expected as sooner or later he would have left the job voluntarily or naturally, but Sir Alex Ferguson has been at the helm of Manchester United for quite a long while, even Ryan Giggs hasn’t known another manager in his entire club career.
Hence, the uncertainty that clouded the emotions of most of us when the Scotsman announced he would finally call it a career in management at the end of this season, a United career that spanned 27 years and witnessed a diluge of titles including two Champions League wins and 13 Premier League titles among a cuptail of others, 35 of them.
The uncertainty of emotions mostly stemmed from what Old Trafford would be without SAF, at the dugout infamously chewing on an unfortunate gum, or in the dressing room celebrating success with his many players or demanding they get their shit together in the second half while reducing their thick egos to powder with the hair dryer treatment during half time breaks.
The 71 year old will be missed by adversaries even, which goes a long way to try equating just how much he will be missed by stakeholders of the Red Devils; though some of us are (‘respectfully’) glad he’s finally retired. This brings us to another Scotsman, David Moyes.
After Fergie and M.Sc Econs of North London, the hardly smiling Moyes is the longest serving manager of a Premier League club, which, along with being British (Scottish) and for the sake of the club’s share price on the stock exchange, is basically why Man. United have appointed him as Fergie’s replacement.
Much thought has gone into whether he is the appropriate choice (SAF does have a son managing somewhere, alas!) trophy wise, since he never won a trophy at Goodison Park; or ever, but there’s a huge difference between the red side of Manchester and the blue of Merseyside in favour of the former in every aspect.
But then again, will Moyes be able to live up to the long term stability his appointment has promised and deliver on the trophy front; starting with the defence of a league title next season or will he overwhelmed by the vast resources that’ll be available to him that weren’t at Everton and buckle on the biggest stage like Roberto Mancini has so far done at the blue side of Manchester? Time will tell. Hopefully he’ll have enough of that to get going at OT, although I reckon he’ll win the FA Cup next season.
Whether he will with or without Wayne Rooney is another mystery shrouding Man. United at the moment after it was reported that the English forward handed in a transfer request for whatever reason ranging from Fergie’s retirement to Robin van Persie becoming the team’s focal point.
And following a barrage of far from friendly advices from a number of tweeters, Nike UK athlete Rooney and Nike released statements to clarify that the sportswear manufacturer had requested all athletes on its roster to change their twitter bio to reflect their affiliation with them (Nike), with Rooney going further to state he’d changed his three weeks ago and never had Manchester United on it… but he conveniently didn’t touch on whether he’ll stay or wants to leave the BPL UK club Man. United.
With that still hovering, it is inevitable, like the last time, that a player of Rooney’s calibre is already linked to several clubs. Why people have decided to include Arsenal and initiate a wicked cycle of daydreams, permutations and what not…
… a proper daydream is winning a trophy such as the FA Cup and one Roberto’s Manchester City will aim to win a third title in as many seasons on Saturday when they face another Roberto’s Wigan Athletic side that could be relegated from the Premier League next week yet will play in next season’s Europa League regardless of the final score at Wembley.
It’s a cruel twisted corner the Latics find themselves having lost 3-2 at home to Swansea on Wednesday night and even though he could be forgiven for ‘resting’ players on Saturday ahead of Wigan’s trip to Champions League-chasing and Rooney-interested Arsenal, Martinez will likely field his strongest teams on both crucial days, desperately having Wigan in a perilous all-or-nothing situation with the Europa League being consolation.
Ahead of the FA Cup final, Europa League finalist Chelsea will pay relegation threatened Aston Villa; whose captain Stylian Petrov retired due to Leukemia, a visit in Saturday’s only Premier League match, needing a win to guarantee a top four finish against a Villa side needing a win as well to outrightly guarantee its Premier League status for next season.
Chelsea could have guaranteed a top four finish in Wednesday’s match at home to fifth placed Tottenham Hotspur but Gylfi Sigurdsson’s well made goal won the visitor’s a point in an entertaining 2-2 draw, but handed the top four initiative to the Blues and fourth placed Arsenal.
Fiorentina meanwhile kept up their chase of the last Champions League place in Italy with a lone goal win at city rivals Siena, a result that all but sealed the latter’s relegation to Serie B. La Viola however remain four points behind third placed AC Milan with two games to play after the Rossoneri won 4-0 at already relegated Pescara.
Milan’s city rivals Inter will play no European football next season after a 3-1 loss at home to Lazio on Wednesday, the Nerazurri’s fifth defeat in six matches, ended previously faint hopes of finishing in a Europa League place.
AS Roma’s Europa League hopes took a dent in a lone goal loss at home to Chievo Verona on Tuesday, allowing Lazio rise to sixth place as a result, going above city rivals Roma on goal difference but staying two points behind Udinese that won 3-2 at Palermo to occupy the second Europa League place on the league table in fifth place.
Over in Spain, Barcelona’s title win got delayed yet again following Real Madrid’s 6-2 thrashing of Malaga at the Bernabeu on Wednesday night in a match that witnessed two Malaga players getting sent off, a Cristiano Ronaldo penalty saved only for the Portuguese ace to score his 200th Madrid goal from a freekick four minutes later.
The win put Los Blancos on 80 points after 35 matches, eight points behind Barcelona that has played 34 matches and would finally claim the La Liga title with a win at third placed Atletico Madrid on Sunday regardless of Real’s result at Espanyol on Saturday.
Elsewhere in Madrid, Rafael Nadal’s excellent return to tennis from long term injury continued as he reached the last four of the Mutua Madrid Open with a 4-6 7-6 6-0 win over Spanish compatriot David Ferrer on Friday night, setting up a semi-final match with Spanish wildcard Pablo Andujar who beat Roger Federer’s conqueror Kei Nishikori to reach his first ever ATP tour semi-final.
Sixth seed Tomas Berdych beat world number three Andy Murray in straight sets to set up the other semi-final with Swiss Stanislas Wawrinka who beat Jo-Wilfred Tsonga 6-2 6-7 6-4.
In the women’s section of the Madrid Open, top seed Serena Williams will face Italian Sara Erani while second seed Maria Sharapova will face Ana Ivanovic in the other semi-final.
By Sunday when the final will be played, Sebastien Vettel could have extended his lead atop the Formula 1 drivers’ championship with a podium finish at the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona, though Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso would fancy his chances there as would Vettel’s RedBull teammate Mark Webber who has a good history in the European leg of the Grand Prix season.
British driver Jenson Button of McLaren however doesn’t fancy his or his team’s chances after declaring that McLaren were a long way off their rivals. Vettel meanwhile beat Alonso to post the fatest time in Friday’s practice session. Starting places on the grid will however be decided later on Saturday.
On that note, it’s a wrap from here. Match to look forward to apart from the FA Cup, Chelsea’s visit of Villa and Tottenham’s trip to Stoke on Sunday is PSG’s trip to third placed Olympique Lyon on Sunday where a win for PSG could win them the Ligue 1 title. The capital club will however need Marseille to drop points against Toulouse to claim the league title for the first time since 1994.
Have a great weekend ahead.
Due to that faltering ambition in the league, Liverpool could soon be in danger of becoming the other club of the Merseyside, a place held by an ever improving Everton that has the third longest serving manager in the Premier League, David Moyes.
The Toffees did very well last season, capping it with two wins in all competitions over Liverpool as it wrestled 5th spot from Aston Villa before losing gallantly to Chelsea at the final of the FA Cup.
And with Jo extending his loan deal for the whole of this season from Manchester City; wise choice, coupled with Louis Saha on the field more than under the knife, Tim Cahill being the thorn he always is from midfield alongside Marouane Fellaini and the return of James Vaughn and fan favourites Mikel Arteta and Yakubu Aiyegbeni from injuries, getting the goals won’t be a problem for Everton.
Keeping the back tight however could be, that is if the club succeeds in keeping Joleon Lescott from the lure of City’s approach all through the summer. Last time, City improved its bid for the fine defender from £18m to £22m.
And if Lescott were to leave, Moyes could find someone else to fill the void left with the money ala Philippe Senderos from Arsenal or from the reserves but either way, you get the feeling the club would come through whatever the outcome.
That cannot be said of Aston Villa which is struggling to keep Ashley Young from lurking suitors while former captain Gareth Barry moved on, but to Man. City and not a club playing in the Champions League as he had advertised all through last season.
Add that to a thin squad of players and 6th place might just be quite a shot to aim at for Martin O’Neill, the burn-out of Gabriel Agbonlahor and Young last season was evident in the destrucitve dip in form plus, John Carew and Emile Heskey; good as they are, do not have age on their side.
That allows a club such as Fulham to take the place of the Villans. Just as Redknapp at Spurs, Roy Hudgson as been able to manage the Cottagers well enough. Same can also be said of Steve Bruce at a new look Sunderland which has seen the arrival of striker Darren Bent, Lorik Cana from Marseille and Frazier Campbell from Manchester United to add to the likes of Kenwyne Jones and Kieran Richardson, hopefully the new era would bring better luck over the season for the Black Cats.
The exit of Emile Heskey mid last season to Villa plus Valencia to Man. United and manager Steve Bruce to Sunderland, Wigan Athletic has itself an uphill task of matching its 11th place finishing of last season.
Over at Upton Park however, Gianfranco Zola can work his relatively young West Ham United side higher up the Premier League cadre owing to a good first season in Premier League management though managing a young squad burdened with a league, Cup and Europa League programme could be the undoing of the London club.
It would be interesting to see how Portsmouth fares this season, especially if it is finaly bought by…you guessed it, a stinking rich Middle Eastern. But all the money comes to nothing when it is not matched with performances on the field of play and manager Paul Hart has a wealth of experienced players at his disposal but a bit more speed and youth would do a lot of good for the south coast club, the loss of Glen Johnson to Liverpool though…not a good sign for an already tired defence.
At Ewood Park, Sam Allardyce looked like he was still getting used to the change of environment from neighbours Bolton Wanderers evident in Rovers’ indifferent form over last season. The exit of Roque Santa Cruz to Man. City can be well managed knowing the sort of manager Allardyce is and he would be hoping his Croatian recruit along with Franco di Santo on loan from Chelsea till January help with issues upfront.
Bolton meanwhile found the ride even harder than Rovers and manager Gary Megson probably is not looking forward to the upcoming season with few key players lost last season and main striker Johan Elmander still getting accustomed to the Premier League after a very disappointing first season on arrival from Toulouse.
Even more disappointing however was Hull City. Then newly promoted, the Tigers were contenders for the Premier League title a quarter games into the season but a severe dip in form saw a reverse in aspirations and it had become a dg fight against relegation which the KC Stadium outfit achieved on the final day last season; a far less reliance on part time preacher Geovanni would go a long way in retaining the club’s Premier League status at the end of this season.
Finally, Wolverhampton Wanderers leads the newly promoted clubs into the Premier League, the others being Birmingham City and Burnley. And really, much cannot be said of newly promoted clubs…Hull were title contenders at the start of last season, by the end they were desperately fighting off relegation.
A word though on Burnley, it took Tottenham extra time to knock the club out at the semi-final of the League Cup last season after three Premier League clubs, including Arsenal and Fulham, had failed to do same in earlier rounds.
The season begins on the weekend of August 15 with Arsenal’s visit to Everton the star match of the opening weekend alongside the reverse north London-Merseyside clash between Tottenham and Liverpool at White Hart Lane. Champions Man. United begin at home to Birmingham while Chelsea also start at home to Hull and Mark Hughes takes his star studded Man. City to old club and Lancashire neighbours Blackburn Rovers.
Opening weekend – Saturday, 15 August
Aston Villa v Wigan
Blackburn v Manchester City
Bolton v Sunderland
Chelsea v Hull
Everton v Arsenal
Manchester Utd v Birmingham
Portsmouth v Fulham
Stoke v Burnley
Tottenham v Liverpool
Wolves v West Ham