Back Of The Net Special With Ray North – The Legendary Pre-Season Preview

by Ray_North on August 17, 2016

Unknown-4Ok – it’s a week late, but I’ve been on holiday, and there’s been the Olympics and, well, you know, life gets in the way.

But, I’ve now got five minutes to spare and can share my thoughts on what I think will be the most interesting football season, since, well, since the last one.

No one could have predicted the Leicester City would win the Premier League last year – but, they did, and in doing so, they showed that football is not just about billion dollar owners and the Champions League, but that occasionally, a well drilled side with a lot of spirit and a bit of luck can prevail.

But, that was last season, what about this….

Well, let’s start with the reigning champs, Leicester City – how will they do? Well, the good news for Leicester is that they’ve managed to keep on to almost all of their players – Mahrez and Vardy, but the player they’ve lost, Kante, their dynamic midfielder who was absolutely superb for them last year. Leicester’s problem though, is that this year, other teams will see them coming – they won’t be allowed to sit back and counter attack, teams will defend deeper and show them more respect. They’ll also have the added problem of Champions League football. I wish Leicester well, but I’ll be surprised if they finish in the top 4.
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Arsenal always finish in the top 4: but, in recent years, this perennial success without the silverware is starting to grate with Gooners. Last season, one suspects, with the problems at other clubs, they had a great chance to win the title, but, as ever, weaknesses in key positions, poor results when it mattered and injuries let them down. It seems as though every year that i’ve been doing my preview, I’ve said that Arsenal need to buy a centre half and a holding midfielder, but, these positions are never really filled to the standard that Arsenal fans expect. This year, could be a difficult one for them.
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Staying in North London, Spurs had a great season last year, before falling away at the end. I like Tottenham and their manager Poccetino, I like the fact that he is prepared to bring along and actually play, young local talent. I hope that Spurs are rewarded for their endeavour with another good season.

Traditionally, Chelsea have struggled to bring on their local talent, personally, I think that it is no co-incidence that last seasons with their home grown talent, like Terry, Cole and Lampard, aged, retired or moved on Chelsea struggled. Their new manager Conte, looks like he really knows what he’s about, and the signing of the Leicester schemer, Kante, is an absolute coup – saying that, I don’t think that they’ll win a title with Diego Costa as their main striker and no real alternative to Terry at centre half.

Staying in London, my tip for this year’s dark horses are West Ham – their manager Slaven Bilic is intelligent, honest and personable, the team he is building is clever and adaptable, managing a number of styles from the hoof it up to Andy Carroll to the more subtle development of the skills of French star Payet. Their defence is well organised and they’ll benefit from moving to the Olympic Stadium. I can see West Ham pushing on, perhaps not into top 4 this year, but in the not to distant future.

Up in Manchester City and United have both changed their managers and the battle between Mourinho at United and Guardiola at City is going to be absolutely fascinating. My hunch is that this year, it will be the red half of United who will be the happier – Mourinho has bought big in Pogba and Makhitarian (who is superb) and stellar in Zlatan who is good for at least 20 goals this season, even if half the time he may not appear interested. Mourinho has a habit of getting results quickly, and I feel that this year will be no different.

City on the other hand, may require a bit more work, their defence is poor when Kompany is injured and the type of close, pressing football that Guardiola prefers may not be obtained overnight. City have also been quiet in the transfer market, which is strange – this season may well see them in a state of transition.

How about Liverpool? Well, Jurgen Klopp can no longer complain that he hasn’t had a pre-season, or that the team isn’t his – he’s signed some interesting players in Mane from Southampton and Wijnaldum from Newcastle, though perhaps more important could be the signing of no-nonsense Estonian centre half, Klaven who brings a certain menace to what is often a fragile defence. Will Klopp’s heavy metal football prevail? I hope so, they’ll definitely be an improvement on last year.

Everton could be another surprise this season – the appointment of Ronald Koeman was inspired and may prove to be the ailing Bill Kenwright’s last gift to the club he loves. They’ve purchased the effervescent Bolasie from Palace and Ashley Williams from Swansea (which is superb business); Koeman will have them playing good football whilst making them difficult to beat – I expect a good season at Goodison.

images-1Of those who may well briefly sparkle before slipping to mid-table obscurity, I expect Sunderland under David Moyes to be harder to beat than in previous years; Stoke City will be occasionally brilliant, as any team with the likes of Shakiri and Anautovic should be, whilst Southampton and West Brom have got too much experience and class to get themselves embroiled in a relegation fight, but, alas, not enough firepower to trouble the upper echelons of the league.

Which brings me to the strugglers – Middlesbrough will find it tough, because traditionally the promoted teams do, but, they’ve signed some good players in Negredo, Ramirez and De Roon and I expect them to comfortably survive. Of the other promoted teams, Burnley are well served by the fact that their manager Sean Dyche has been here before as have some of the players – they’ll be a little wiser this time around, and that should be enough. Hull City, on the other hand, despite their initial success, can look forward to a difficult season, losing their manager on the eve of kick off was a disaster, and a look at their squad, suggests a lack of numbers and class in key positions – I fear the worst.Unknown-2

I also fear for Swansea who have lost Ayew, Gomis and most importantly Ashley Williams. They’re a well run club though the Swans, and they’ll be relying on every ounce of their experience and guile to keep them up this season.

Bournemouth are also well served by an excellent young manager, Eddie Howe, performed miracles in keeping them in the Premier league last season, and should, by rights, find it easier this season. He’s made some good signings including one of my favourites Jordan Ibe and I expect good things from them.

Watford also did well last season, they played efficient, fast football and had a good home record – can they sustain it another season? I’ll be interested to see how their wonderfully named Nigerian signing Isaac Success gets on. I feel for Watford, it may depend on how they respond to the inevitable sticky patch.

Crystal Palace always have a sticky patch – last year it saw them plummet from fourth to eighteenth in the space of three barren months. They’ve lost Bolasie and I fear that one or two of their players are a bit unhappy – and the signings of Townsend and Tomkins from Newcastle and West Ham respectively look a bit poultry to me – it will take all of Alan Pardew’s skills to keep them in the right half of the league.

So, here is my legendary league table:

1. Man United
2. Man City
3. Spurs
4. Chelsea
5. Liverpool
6. West Ham
7. Arsenal
8. Everton
9. Leicester City
10.Sunderland
11.Bournemouth
12.Southampton
13.Middlesbrough
14.Stoke City
15.Burnley
16.West Brom
17.Swansea City
18.Watford
19.Crystal Palace
20.Hull City

Players to watch:

Unknown-3Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Man United, obviously.
Marko Grujic of Liverpool, this man could become the new Steven Gerrard.

Moussa of Leicester City, even faster than Jamie Vardie.

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