Bank on him…
Whether the signings and the returning figures will turn Arsenal into a title winning force remains to be seen, but that coupled with the international break, should at least provide the Gunners with a fresh slate this weekend. Picking an Arsenal player after the 8-2 loss would have seemed foolish but two weeks later, with a deadline day sandwiched in-between, it seems an incredibly long time ago. Winless Swansea arrive at the Emirates as lambs to the slaughter. The ‘new look’ Arsenal should run out easy winners and Robin van Persie (£11.9m) could run amok. It may be some time before Mikel Arteta and Yossi Benayoun bed in properly and with Jack Wilshere out, Arsenal have plenty of concerns. But there’s a sense that, like Blackpool last year, Swansea are just too naïve to withstand the inevitable wave after wave of Arsenal attack at the Emirates.
One to avoid…
Ali Al-Habsi is a popular fantasy choice. He’s relatively cheap (£4.5m) and quietly goes about his business effectively (although he will want to forget his error on the opening day). He also has back-to-back clean-sheets to highlight just how worthwhile he can be. However just like last week, when I warned against Brad Friedel, Al-Habsi needs to be benched given his tough match-up with Manchester City. They have so much attacking intent and so many ways to score goals that he is in serious danger of ending up with minus points.
But, do be weary of selecting specific Manchester City players given that they begin Champions League life with a tricky test versus Napoli on Wednesday. Manager Roberto Mancini will have more than one eye on that game and that could force his hand when selecting his team against Wigan. Given their impressive form of late, the obvious selections would be Edin Džeko, Sergio Agüero and Samir Nasri but Mancini has two large egos in Mario Balotelli and Carlos Tévez to appease. Giving them a run out against lowly Wigan may prove to be a sensible decision.
Roll the dice…
Joey Barton (£5.9m) loves being in the headlines. Whether it is through Twitter rants tinged with philosophical musings, digs at Match of the Day pundits or simply falling down after being slapped by a man with absurd hair, Barton is always in the spotlight. There will be no chance of that subsiding now he’s joined QPR given the baptism of fire he will face against former club Newcastle. There’s a story to be written and you can bet Barton intends on playing a prominent role in the plot. That may well be a red card and it may be a marvellous performance rounded off with the opening goal (14-1 on Paddy Power, by the way). Either way, Barton is unlikely to remain under the radar at Loftus Road, his selection would be a true gamble but one which may reap dividends.
You can follow me on Twitter @liamblackburn.
By faith Moses, when he was born, was hid three months of his parents, because they saw he was a proper child; and they were not afraid of the king’s commandment
When Bolton boss Owen Coyle grandly declared himself to be the biblical character Moses two years ago, he should have been aware that he was muscling in on someone’s territory.
Days after Coyle preached to the media asking them to shun his ‘Judas’ tag in favour of the Moses moniker, Victor Moses was joining Wigan.
He may not possess the wave-parting abilities of Coyle but his surname puts him one up in the claim to be the North West’s answer to the Red Sea-splitter.
The Nigerian-born striker was tutored at Crystal Palace, the club which nurtured prolific goalscorer Ian Wright. The Eagles knew that Moses was always likely to fly from the nest as his stock grew and he moved to Wigan in 2010, a move which initially surprised.
He was touted by many but opted for what could be construed as one of the least attractive options in Wigan. But in the long run, Moses may reap the rewards. Former team-mate John Bostock has toiled away in Spurs’ reserves and on loan spells since his high-profile exit from Selhurst Park whilst Moses has slowly honed his skills at the Latics. Now, he could be ready to explode onto the Premier League scene.
Roberto Martinez decided to stay at the DW Stadium this season despite perceived interest from Aston Villa. He claimed his stay was an act of loyalty, something which Burnley fans would claim Coyle was adverse too.
But the departure of Charles N’Zogbia, the shining light of Wigan Pier, will test Martinez’s allegiance further. N’Zogbia was their match-winner, in the end, the difference between them suckling on the Premier League teat for another year rather than protecting themselves with parachute payments in the Championship.
In his place, Wigan must find a new star and with limited funds, he must come from within. Step forward, Victor Moses.
“He’s a special talent,” said Roberto Martinez.
“’It’s a real shock to any player to move up to the Premier League, but since he’s been here he’s added maturity and experience to his undoubted ability.
“’Charlie has left a big hole in our team but that vacancy is a big opportunity for Victor and maybe a couple of other players to step up.
“Victor is a different kind of player to Charlie but has the same quality that sets players like that apart from the rest.”
Martinez believes the time is now for Moses and he’s certainly backed that up with some impressive performances as a warm-up act, netting five times in pre-season.
There is plenty to like about him. He is quick and powerful, capable of scoring goals and turning provider for others. He has all the match-winning attributes that made N’Zogbia such a valuable commodity.
In fantasy football, that value is severely underappreciated. Moses is valued at a meagre £5m, the same as Lucas and Nigel De Jong. Whilst those two are regular fixtures for their respective clubs, they’re also prone to allergic reactions and nose bleeds should they venture as far as the opposition’s box. Moses, therefore, is a snip considering his ability to weigh in with goals from midfield.
If you needed further evidence, consider Wigan’s first three fixtures, the three promoted clubs, Norwich Swansea and QPR, two of which are at home. The opportunity is there for Moses to make an instant impact.
Owen Coyle believed he was like the prophet Moses because he led Burnley from the wilderness to the Premier League. Wigan frequently cling onto their place in the latter and the real Moses may go some way to ensuring they don’t find themselves in the wilderness any time soon.
You can follow me on Twitter @liamblackburn
(You can view last year’s predictions here)
In comparison with previous years, many of the upper echelon have readily felt the need to reach for the chequebook. Manchester City can now use Champions League football to entice players and the signing of Sergio Agüero is the biggest indication yet that they may about to embark on a serious pursuit for the title. But Manchester United have taken another step in their evolution and last week’s Community Shield proved that they are once again the side to beat.
Champions – Manchester United
The team that recorded its 19th league title wasn’t particularly spectacular and in comparison with previous years, the only fireworks were saved for the title’s presentation. Sir Alex Ferguson’s side were unflappable, churning out victories without the cavaliering style of previous title-winning squads. The winning mentality which has defined Ferguson’s reign was crucial and the likes of Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Edwin van der Sar had the nous to see them over the line. Javier Hernández proved to be the signing of the season and Nani’s emergence as a world-class star did inject some excitement.
But Ferguson knew that to stay ahead of the pack, particularly ahead of City, he’d need to reinvest, to rejuvenate. Scholes and van der Sar hung up their respective boots and gloves and squad players Wes Brown and John O’Shea were moved on. In came the fresh talent, Ashley Young, David de Gea and Phil Jones. Furthermore, academy products Danny Welbeck and Tom Cleverley have flown home to roost. All are young, promising individuals keen to be moulded by Ferguson, a man who is in his element working with youth.
The voids left by Scholes and van der Sar are concerns. De Gea will be compensation for the loss of the latter and his progress will be one of the season’s talking points. Scholes’ departure may prove an all-together different proposition. Replacing a player with such technical traits is virtually impossible. So United will look to the energetic Anderson to replicate Nani’s breakout season last term and the pre-season promise that Cleverley has displayed will provide further hope.
Few would ever bet against Ferguson and he appears to have the right blend of experience, energy and excitement to stay in-front once more.
Top Four – Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool
Little has been written about Chelsea this term and perhaps that is a good thing. André Villas-Boas is an intelligent man with an incredible football brain but he must be given time and space to work his magic at this elite level. The Portuguese manager built an extraordinary team at Porto but has made few alternations since arriving at Stamford Bridge. However the biggest difference which must occur is internal. They must change their mentality and Villas-Boas seems like the right man to do so. He will be able to call upon title-winning experience and that is the reason why they will be United’s biggest challengers. Like United they will be keen to develop tomorrow’s generation today and Daniel Sturridge, Josh McEachran and the incoming Romelu Lukaku are exciting protégées.
Manchester City will feel that they have a chance to win the league this season but those aspirations may be 12 months premature. The alluring nature of Champions League football will capture plenty of their attention and look at how that deterred Spurs from their domestic campaign. Then there is the small matter of Carlos Tévez. The Argentine forward was incredibly valuable to City’s success last year and should he depart, they must find inspiration elsewhere. Sergio Agüero is a magnificent coup but Tévez’s boots are sizeable things to expect him to instantly fill. There are also lots of City players who are aggrieved at not getting a first-team chance. Those simmering tensions remain under the lid when City are winning but expectation is higher this year and Roberto Mancini may have a revolt on his hands if he doesn’t bring in more silverware.
When Kenny Dalglish rolled up at Anfield once more last January, the club were in disarray. The King managed to completely transform that and they finished the season looking stronger than almost any other side in the league. They have been one of the most active teams in this transfer window and have made some good if not spectacular moves. Their policy of buying English may cause them to pay over the odds but it is an ideology which proved so fruitful for Dalglish at Blackburn. They also have Luis Suárez who, in my view, is one of the best strikers in the game and may just finish this season as the Premier League’s top scorer.
Many people are predicting Arsène Wenger’s savvy nature will ensure Arsenal don’t drop out of the top four but I’ve seen little evidence that they’ve progressed. Cesc Fàbregas and Samir Nasri could well depart and they are still crying out for an authoritative centre-back, powerful midfielder and experienced goalkeeper. A sadly familiar story is becoming tiresome and Wenger is going to have to fight hard to convince his players, the fans and the media that his philosophy will bring glory to The Emirates.
As for Tottenham, this could be a really difficult season at White Hart Lane. In many ways the Luka Modrić saga is a lose-lose situation. If the Croatian stays, they have a disgruntled player in their ranks. If he departs, Spurs will fall further behind whilst simultaneously strengthening one of their rivals. Then there is Harry Redknapp whose demeanour has become increasingly strange over the past 12 months. He has publically criticised Spurs fans in the media on more than one occasion and appears to have lost a certain zest when it comes to managing the team. Fabio Capello’s heir apparent is probably less than a year away from the England job and it could be difficult for him to maintain focus on events at Tottenham.
Surprise Package – Aston Villa
This summer has been far from a haven for Aston Villa. Chairman Randy Lerner, a man who had previously been heralded for his stewardship, bumbled through the process of hiring a new manager before deciding on Alex McLeish. The former Birmingham boss managed to create a unique sense of togetherness between the second-city rivals in the form of shared hatred of the Scot. McLeish did take Birmingham to relegation last year and any concerns about the new season were further enhanced when Brad Friedel, Ashley Young and Stewart Downing jumped board.
But there are plenty of rays of sunshine emanating from the doom mongering over the Holte End. Firstly, McLeish IS a good manager. He captured the Carling Cup last season and built a solid unit which was difficult to break down at St Andrew’s. A lack of investment proved their downfall but he has already been allowed access to Lerner’s wallet in his new position. Shay Given is a top-quality goalkeeper who is reliable and consistent. His assured performances should bolster a defence which went from solid to porous within 12 months. The absence of Young and Downing will allow Marc Albrighton to continue to blossom and Charles N’Zogbia has the potential to win matches virtually single-handedly as he did countless times at Wigan. Throw in the ever dependable Darren Bent and you have the crux of a decent side.
Villa’s initial run of fixtures is even more heart-warming. They face only one side who finished in the top six last year in their first 11 games and that doesn’t come until October. McLeish’s baptism of fire may prove to be little more than the flickering of a candle.
Relegation – QPR, Swansea, Blackburn
These three will be expecting a dogfight, elsewhere, West Brom have made some clever signings, Bolton should have enough class and Wolves’ squad looks strong enough to remain above the pit. Of the three promoted sides, Norwich could spring some surprises. Carrow Road will be rammed full of partisan crowds every other weekend and Paul Lambert’s squad know nothing other than winning under him following back-to-back promotions. They will be handed thrashings on occasion but should pick up enough points at home to ensure survival. Wigan continue to astound given their tiny stature but Roberto Martínez deserves plenty of plaudits for the side he has built. The loss of Charles N’Zogbia will be felt but there is an infectious excitement about Victor Moses and he should repeat N’Zogbia’s match-winning performances from the left wing.
QPR were magnificent in their Championship winning season but the emotion involved in that triumph may have sapped them. Neil Warnock appears an exasperated man this off-season and hasn’t been backed with the type of funds his owners could quite easily part with. Old-timers Shaun Derry and Clint Hill were stalwarts in the second tier but surely the step up will prove too much. Adel Taarabt and Alejandro Faurlín are wonderful ball-players and in D.J. Campbell and Jay Bothroyd, goals shouldn’t be hard to come by. But will it be enough?
Swansea finished last season in-form and their Premier League status will probably hinge on Scott Sinclair’s performances. Sinclair set the Championship alight but he has struggled when faced with Premier League defences before. There is still time for Swansea to make some moves in the transfer market but they know they will face an uphill task regardless.
Blackburn are quickly growing into the Premier League’s punch line (see this Venky’s advert for further evidence). They clung on by the skin of their teeth last May and will be grasping for enamel once more. Phil Jones wisely jumped board and there are enough suitors for Christopher Samba to believe that Rovers will need a whole new centre-back pairing. With changes at the back they will need a steady stream of goals and none of the current crop looks good enough to keep them from sinking.
You can follow me on Twitter @liamblackburn.