Four things to expect from the new season: Aston Villa, Fulham, QPR & Blackburn
A couple of weeks ago there was some fairly damning opinions on this site about Villa, and while some of those are still valid, there is at least some reason for optimism.
Ashley Young’s departure for Manchester United was six months in the making, so when no obvious plan seemed to exist for replacing him alarm bells were ringing loud and clear. Similarly with Stewart Downing, Villa seemed to be stripping their parts and selling them off for no apparent reason. Charles N’Zogbia’s arrival has done a bit to temper fears around the quality in the first team, but as ever with N’Zogbia the fear will always be that good performances will soon lead to him agitating for a move to a bigger club – he’s just that kind of personality. Unfortunately for him, his off-the-field persona has sometimes overshadowed quite how good a player he can be – there’s no doubt that a forward trident of him, Gabriel Agbonlahor, and Darren Bent is exciting on paper, so let’s hope that it produces.
Concerns obviously still exist in midfield, because out of Petrov, Delph, Bannan, Albighton, Makoun and Ireland, there’s not a lot that would trouble the ‘good’ teams in the league. As with N’Zogbia, Stephen Ireland is a very capable player when he’s focused, Marc Albrighton is growing into a very solid Premier League performer, and Jean Makoun was once earmarked for big things in the game which he’s yet to achieve. These are the ‘what ifs’ with Villa, and if the stars align then it’s not inconceivable that they’ll be in the 7th to 9th range come May 2012.
At the back Shay Given has come in to replace Brad Friedel, and that might be more disruptive than anybody imagines. Friedel, despite his age, is an organiser at the back – his shot-stopping and ball-handling are welcome additions to that. He fits a team like Tottenham, because after Heurelho Gomes’ season they craved stability over more spectacular ,but unreliable, goalkeeping. Shay Given will rarely make mistakes, that’s the good news, but he is more of an outstanding shot-stopper than he is an all-round elite Goalkeeper. He thrived at Newcastle because that was an environment where he was peppered with shots, which plays to his strengths – but at Man City, where the more controlling and authoritarian attributes of goalkeeping were at a premium… not so much. That may very well turn into a ‘something of nothing’ comment as the season goes on, but it would be a concern, because it’s Given’s perceived inability to manage a defense that’s cost him a move to a very big club in the past.
There’s nothing conclusive here obviously, and add in the new manager-factor and it’s very hard to predict what kind of season Villa will turn in. There are far more positives than most imagine, the biggest of all being the guarantee of goals through Darren Bent. They’ll be hard-working which is good news, but I hope that Alex McLeish doesn’t turn Villa into the negative side that Birmingham were – because there’s far more talent in this squad, and his best bet would be to take the reigns off and get his wide forwards involved at every possible opportunity. Who knows.Blackburn will really struggle
What’s happening to Blackburn at the moment should be used as a testcase for preventing foreign-owners entering English football without a clear set of objectives.
Venky’s management of the club is explored at greater length elsewhere, but the sum of their transfer activity looks very unimpressive. If Christopher Samba does head, as expected, to London, then outside of Junior Hoillet there are not very many positives left in that squad. They’re light up-front, they’re vulnerable at the back, and they’re not particularly imposing or creative in midfield. David Goodwillie may turn into the goalscorer that Rovers need him to be, but you can’t gamble on goalscoring records in Scotland – the standard of play outside of the Old Firm is so poor as to render them meaningless. Goodwillie is a good player, but not one that really fits into the mould of ‘global brand expansion’ that was promised by the Indian owners.
It would also be surprising if Steve Kean was still in a job at Christmas time. For all the upheaval and negative press the club incurred for dismissing Sam Allardyce, his replacement has only really taken the club backwards. The only thing that really protects Kean is that removing him would be a very embarrassing u-turn for the owners, and one that they would want avoid at all costs. But what you can’t escape, is that if you have a under-talented squad, then you need a motivating and experienced manager with proven credentials – Blackburn have only the former, so you have to think they’re going to struggle. It’s a shame, because the fans deserve far better, this is a proud football club and yet the way it’s being managed is self-destructive.Martin Jol will do a great job at Fulham.
Martin Jol is the kind of manager that players love to play for, he’s a father figure and a motivator. This is someone, after all, that took Tottenham to the brink of the Champions League with a team containing Paul Stalteri and Jermaine Jenas.
What Fulham can expect, is a return to the way the club performed under Roy Hodgson. You always got the impression that Mark Hughes never really had his heart in the job during his year-long tenure, but you’ll get completely the opposite with Jol – he’s may not be the most tactically-astute manager, but he’ll get the very best out of what’s there.
It’s not as if the squad is short on talent either; Damien Duff, Bobby Zamora, Clint Dempsey, Moussa Dembele and Brede Hangeland are all very much good enough to be playing in the top half – and John-Arne Riise is a quality addition at left-back despite his age.
Nothing to fear on the River Thames this year, they’ll play some attractive football and knock-off some big teams at Craven Cottage – Jol is a perfect fit for a mid-level team that wants to step-up a level.
Adel Taarabt needs to have discipline if QPR are to stay in the Premier League
The phrase ‘luxury player’ is banded about all too liberally, but Taarabt is the picture underneath the dictionary entry. If you haven’t seen him before, he plays ridiculously low-percentage football; he passes when he wants to pass, he takes on defenders when he doesn’t need to, and he’ll never track back. To be fair to the Moroccan, he’s absurdly-talented, and so for Neil Warnock to build his entire team around him is fully-justified. However, the problem with this at Premier League level, is that you can’t give the ball-away like you can in the Championship. QPR are very much Taarabt plus ten other Championship-level players, and so surrendering possession will not lead to anything good. What Warnock must achieve is a situation where his playmaker’s penchant for the ridiculous is curbed slightly, whilst not sacrificing his level of influence – it’s a catch 22, and almost certainly impossible given how unmanageable the Moroccan is.
It’s quite a rare situation to have, but QPR’s hopes of survival rest almost entirely on Taarabt. He has the capability to be both the player that keeps them in the league, yet is also the one that most threatens their survival. Expect an awful lot of show-boating, probably some August bandwagon-jumping from Match Of The Day, and at least one goal of the month contender.http://thepremierleagueowl.com/2011/08/04/four-things-to-expect-from-the-new-season-aston-villa-fulham-qpr-blackburn/?