Tag Archives: Everton

Predicting Premier League finishing positions (10-1)

In my previous post I made my predictions on who would finish in the bottom half of the Premier League table (20-11). In this post I will predict who I think will finish in the top half of the Premier League table, who will qualify for the Champions League and most importantly who I think will win the Premier League title. So let’s start at 10th place and work our way upwards…

10. Southampton – It shows the progress that Southampton have made that another top ten finish plus a League Cup Final appearance which they were desperately unlucky to lose was not enough to save manager Claude Puel’s job. The main problem for Southampton was scoring goals especially at home where only rock bottom Sunderland scored fewer. But Manolo Gabbiadini started well and he and Charlie Austin – if he is fit – will solve that problem. They are probably fighting a losing battle to keep Virgil van Dijk but even without him new manager Mauricio Pellegrino should have enough to keep the Saints in the top ten. 

9. West Ham – West Ham had an unhappy season last time. The move to the Olympic Stadium had teething problems with crowd trouble and fans and players struggled to adapt. For a lot of the season it looked like they were going to be in a relegation struggle. This season should be better. The new signings – Pablo Zabaleta, Joe Hart, Marko Arnautovic and Javier Hernandez – look sensible and they will be more used to their new home. I expect West Ham to get their League position back down to single figures.

8. Leicester City – After four seasons where they won promotion, staged the great escape, won the Premier League title against all odds, then botched their title defence but reached the Champions League Quarter Finals Leicester fans might want a quiet life. I think they will get it. It helps that they will not be the target for scalp hunters that they were last season. They might lose Riyad Mahrez but he was not the force he was the season before last and it is significant that no one has bid for Jamie Vardy this summer. In 2015-16 Leicester over achieved in winning the title and last season they under achieved in finishing 12th. This season they will find their true level as a solid lower top ten team. 

7. Everton – Everton were in a League of their own last season eight points behind sixth but fifteen points ahead of eighth. While I think they will keep seventh place I suspect they will be further away from the top six and nearer the rest of the pack than they were last season. Losing Romelu Lukaku is a huge blow and I don’t think Wayne Rooney who is past his best is an ideal replacement. Jordan Pickford and Michael Keane are interesting signings and they might sell Ross Barkley and sign Gylfi Sigurdsson before the transfer window closes. Participation in the Europa League won’t help and seventh is probably the best they can do.

6. Liverpool – Jurgen Klopp managed to guide Liverpool back to the Champions League (well the qualifying round anyway) last season but the task will be harder this season. Liverpool had the advantage of not being in Europe last season and the squad does not appear to have the strength in depth to challenge on two fronts this season. Personally if Barcelona are offering £90 million for Philippe Coutinho I would take the money and sign four £20 million players to give the squad the depth it badly needs. They did not lose a League game to a fellow top six team last season but that is surely unsustainable and I suspect that Liverpool will finish in the Europa League zone this season.

5. Tottenham – Tottenham have been the best team in the Premier League over the last two seasons (though they did not win the title) but they might have to go backwards before they go forwards. The move to Wembley this season will seriously hinder them – their European form there last season was terrible – while as of this writing they have made zero signings in the close season and lost Kyle Walker. In football if you stand still you go backwards and that is what will happen with Tottenham. They still have Delie Alli and Harry Kane and will be in the race for a Champions League spot but I think they will just miss out. 

4. Arsenal – For the first time in 20 years Arsenal are not in the Champions League. That season (1997-98) they won the League and Cup double but I doubt that happens again. Alexander Lacazette is the star signing but free transfer Sead Kolasinsc is the more interesting signing judging by his substitute appearance in Sunday’s Community Shield. Two problems – the contract situation of Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil and if they get off to a bad start the whole Arsene Wenger debate will resurface. Suspect they will regain their Champions League spot but still look a bit below the top three. 

3. Chelsea – All does not appear well at Stamford Bridge. Eden Hazard will miss the start of the season, Diego Costa looks like he is on his way out and manager Antonio Conte is grumbling about the depth (or lack of) in the squad and is talking about avoiding a “Mourinho season” – referring to Chelsea’s inept title defence of two seasons ago. I doubt Chelsea will sink as low this time but they don’t look like a title retaining team. They will have to cope with the rigours of a European campaign – unlike last season. It will be interesting to see how Alvaro Morata adapts to the Premier League but they look unlikely to defend the title.

2. Manchester City – Judging by the hype on his arrival Pep Guadiola was going to lead City to a Premier League/Champions League double without breaking a sweat. Of course nothing of the sort happened and they were no nearer the Champions last season than the season before – in both seasons they trailed the title winners by fifteen points and sometimes the defence was a source of comic entertainment. Guadiola has taken action by signing a new goalkeeper (Ederson) and three new defenders (Kyle Walker, Danilo and Benjamin Mendy). Are these the right players? Some grumbling City fans on Twitter were saying they would rather have England women’s right back Lucy Bronze than Walker. Suspect that they are joking but it does not show confidence in Walker. They need the new defence to bed in quickly, Vincent Kompany to stay fit and John Stones to cut out the errors. For them to win the title that might be too many needs. Watch out for Gabriel Jesus though. This player is a future star. 

1. Manchester United – Ironically last season United had the opposite problem to their neighbours. The defence was solid but the attack apart from Zlatan Ibrahimovic was toothless. They scored fewer League goals last season than Bournemouth – and fewer at home than relegated Hull. Enter £75 million striker Romelu Lukaku. Some people say that Lukaku is just a rabbit killer. I don’t agree but even if he is that is just what United need as they did not do much rabbit killing last season – especially at home. Bournemouth, Burnley, Hull. Stoke, Swansea, West Brom and West Ham all gained draws at Old Trafford last season mainly because United did not take their chances in games they dominated. With all due respect those are the bread and butter games that title challengers MUST win. If Lukaku can turn those draws into victories he repays his fee. Add to that the signing of Nemanja Matic from Chelsea – which Chelsea could live to regret – that Paul Pogba might have adapted to the Premier League, Marcus Rashford will keep improving and José Mourinho’s tradition of having a better second season in charge and you have my tips for the title – just. 

I suspect that the key to the season is will Lukaku improve United’s striking weakness or will City’s new defence solve their weakness in that department? My prediction is for Lukaku to have the impact on United that Robin van Pierse did in their last title winning season (2012-13) and bring the title back to Old Trafford.

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Recalling another silly season

To say the 2015-16 Premier League season has been weird is an understatement. Leicester City are top, defending champions Chelsea – who today sacked Jose Mouriniho – are 16th out of 20. It is as if the table has been turned upside down. Manchester United are only consistent in playing out 0-0 draws, Liverpool are thoroughly unpredictable, Tottenham are hard to beat but draw too many games and even Arsenal and Manchester City – the best of the big teams – have had their bad results. While as well as Leicester the likes of Watford, West Ham, Stoke, Crystal Palace and even Premier League first timers Bournemouth have been wrecking havoc. It is all exciting and totally unpredictable and no one knows how it will end. Critics have complained about the lack of quality – using the Premier League’s poor European performances as an argument – but no one can deny the excitement. You could call 2015-16 the “silly season”.

The English football season that most resembles 2015-16 is 1974-75 – another silly season which was totally unpredictable. I just thought I would compare that season with this to see both the similarities and explain how despite the silliness 1974-75 ended predictably – as this season could well do.

One statistic will show how crazy the 1974-75 season was. By the second Saturday of December 1974 six different teams had topped the Division One* table – Carlisle**, Ipswich, Liverpool, Manchester City, Stoke and Everton. Quite remarkably none of those six teams would go on and win the title. Big clubs were struggling. On the 10th of October 1974 – the day of the October 1974 UK General Election – Arsenal were bottom of Division One, Tottenham were second bottom and Chelsea were third bottom*** (Manchester United were not even in Division One having been relegated to Division Two**** the previous April). Small teams were doing well – not just Stoke but Burnley and promoted Middlesbrough challenged for the title for a large part of the season. At the end of 1974 only five points separated the top thirteen teams. Another similarly was that English clubs did badly in Europe (only one – Leeds United – got to the last eight in Europe).

And yet another similarly between 1974-75 and the current season was the implosion of the defending champions. In 1973-74 Leeds United had easily won the League title but in the summer of 1974 manager Don Revie had left to become the England manager. Inexplicably Leeds replaced him with Brian Clough. Inexplicably because in the summer of 1973 Clough had criticised Leeds poor disciplinary record saying that the club should have been relegated as a punishment. So no wonder he was not exactly welcomed with open arms by the Leeds players. The only difference between Clough in 1974 and Mouriniho today was the implosion came quicker. A lot quicker. After 44 days in charge with one League win and the reigning champions 19th out of 22 Clough was sacked. The affair caused a sensation then and still does. A book was written about Clough’s 44 day reign – called the “Dammed United” – which was turned into a film with the same title. It might interest Chelsea fans that Leeds stabilised under new manager Jimmy Armfield but could only finish ninth. They did get to the Final of the European Cup (now the Champions League) but lost it 2-0 to Bayern Munich. An omen for today’s Chelsea?

So how did the 1974-75 season end? Predictably. After all the mayhem the title was won by Derby County one of the best sides of the time (they were third the previous season and had won the title in 1972). Runners up were Liverpool – as they had been in 1974 – who had won the League in 1973.  Two of the three previous title winners in the top two. Hardly a surprise. Everton should have won the title – by March 22 1975 they were three points clear with seven games left. But they won only two of them to blow it. Stoke, Burnley and Middlesbrough – the three small clubs involved in the race – finished fifth, tenth and seventh respectively – a warning for the likes of Leicester, Palace and West Ham today.

So does what happened in 1974-75 give us a clue about the rest of this season? I’d say yes. Based on that season I’d say Chelsea’s new manager will stabilise them but they will rise only to mid table (though they might do well in the Champions League). Leicester won’t win the League but should be top six while Palace Watford and West Ham could be top ten.

And remember I said that the top two of 1974-75 were the two teams that finished immediately below the Champions the previous season. Applied to this season and that means the top two will be Arsenal and Manchester City. Would that really surprise anyone? I suspect after all the mayhem the season will end with either City’s third title in five years or Arsene Wenger’s first title in 12 years. And let’s face it apart from Chelsea those two were the pre season favourites.

I suspect after all the hype, the twists and turns and the shock results the silly season of 2015-16 will come up with a sensible ending. Just like its counterpart in 1974-75 in fact…

*Division One was what the top tier of English football was called before the formation of the Premier League in 1992.

**I mentioned Carlisle’s 1974-75 team – and cricket playing Chris Balderstone – in previous post “A feat you will never see again”.

***Only Chelsea were relegated at the end of the season. Arsenal and especially Tottenham struggled throughout finishing 16th and 19th respectively. In fact if Tottenham had lost their last game of the season they would have been relegated.

****Division Two is the pre 1992 name for what is now the Championship. For the record United easily won Division Two in 1974-75 returning to the top division remaining there ever since.

Scrap the window – and transfer fees

So today is the bi annual farce that is Transfer Deadline Day – the last day this side of 2016 that clubs in the UK can buy or sell players (the deadline was yesterday in Europe but is today in the UK  – presumably because yesterday was a bank holiday in England). Personally I hate this day – and not only because you have to suffer the annoying Jim White on the useless Sky Sports News (as I wrote in an earlier post the name of that channel is an oxymoron) but because the day shouldn’t exist at all.

In fact in the UK we didn’t have one for years. It wasn’t brought in until 2002 when FIFA insisted on it. Until then clubs in the UK could buy/sell players right up until March. FIFA probably insisted on it because European countries had a window for years but so what? Shouldn’t each country be allowed to run its own affairs the way they want to. FIFA should only control transfers between countries not within them. Transfers between UK clubs should not be affected unless we in the UK decide it for ourselves.

I’m amazed the system has survived for thirteen years but I suspect it won’t survive for ever. The system goes against the principles of free trade that most countries believe in. Football of course thinks it is above the law but as Grahame Wright wrote in Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack 1988 (page 50) “it is common practice for an employee to move on to a new employer once he has gained training and experience”. In any other industry there would be no restrictions on free movement so why should football get away with it?

Of course arrogant football wants freedom reduced not increased. Everton manager Roberto Martinez wants the window shut when the season starts because he fears losing star player John Stones (and yet he said on TV he wanted to sign more players. Hypocrite, You can’t complain about someone trying to sign one of your players while you want to sign players yourself. Practice what you preach. You don’t have to sign players once the season starts) . Not only is Martinez’s idea even more restricting on free trade its impossible to do with one transfer window for everybody because seasons start at different times (and in the US, Sweden and Norway to name but three examples the season is going on right through the window).Just proves how stupid a universial rule is. To enforce Martinez’s plan you’d either have to have all the seasons of every league in the world played at the same time –  a practical and climatic impossibility – or have separate transfer systems for different countries – which is where we were back in 2002!

The case that has really annoyed me in football this year is David de Gea. Manchester United’s goalkeeper wanted to join Real Madrid because his girlfriend Edurne Garcia wants him in Madrid and he wants to keep her happy. Now I suspect in every other industry he would have been sent on his way with his employer’s best wishes – surely employee happiness is the most important thing – but this is arrogant football. United played hardball first wanting Madrid player Sergio Ramos and then when that fell through insisted on a big transfer fee and then froze the poor guy out of the first team. Finally they saw sense and agreed a deal yesterday – only for the Spanish FA to receive the papers a minute late thus scuppering the deal. I also suspect their might be an undercurrent of sexism here (with football that would not surprise me) in that United probably think that Garcia should just be a nice little girl and go where her man goes. An attitude that is woefully out of date and is stuck in the 1970s.

If I were de Gea I’d take FIFA to court. Why should his girlfriend suffer because two big clubs mucked up trying to beat an artificial deadline? It is true the clubs are partly to blame for leaving it so late but it is human nature to leave things to the last minute as anyone who has ever gone to the shops on Christmas Eve will testify. The transfer window is a restraint of trade and I suspect if someone challenged it in court FIFA would get a sharp lesson that football is not (and should not) be above the law. Just like UEFA learned in the Bosman case (1995) and the International Cricket Council (ICC) learned in 1977 when it tried to ban players for the hideous crime of signing for another employer and the High Court in London told them it was a restraint of trade and they couldn’t ban the players football might have to learn the same lesson again.

One reason I suspect United played hardball over de Gea was the fact they could get a transfer fee.To my mind transfer fees are an abuse of human rights and must go. Football is the only industry where human beings can be bought and sold in a market like animals. Even other sports like cricket and baseball don’t have transfer fees for heaven’s sake. Needless to say the world outside sport doesn’t have them. There is no reason for football to have them. Football moans that clubs would go out of business but cricket and baseball clubs seem to survive perfectly well without them. in fact if you had no transfer fees it is at least possible players might move less. Some agents I suspect encourage players to move because they get a cut of the transfer fee. If their cut was 5 % of nothing there would be less reason for them to encourage their players to move. Also I think clubs might sign more UK players than they do now. A lot of clubs buy foreign players because they are cheaper (£49 MILLION for Raheem Sterling. I rest my case). I suspect if the players were equally priced at zero most clubs would go for the UK player. Not for racist nationalist reasons but because someone who speaks the language and knows the league is less of a risk than those who don’t and since they are the same price the cheapness argument in favour of gambling on a foreigner would go.

There is no reason – except for football’s arrogance – that these ideas of free trade and no transfer fees can’t be implemented. Football’s argument that it would be ruined is nonsense. How on earth then does every other industry survive without transfer windows and transfer fees then? It is time – as with so many other issues  – to tell football that to be a part of society you have to play by the rules of society. Every rule. And that includes free trade and no transfer fees.