Premiership Season Review 2003/4

Premiership season review

How wrong did I get my Premiership preview this season? Read on…

Arsenal
Predicted: 3 / Actual: 1
What I said: No money for players…Wenger must have thought about walking away…too many bit-part under-achievers in the squad…Stepanovs and Cygan need to start shining…how will the back four react to Lehmann?
What happened?: Undefeated season. Enough said. The bit-part players like Van Bronckhorst (loaned out), Kanu and Wiltord (hardly played) proved to be exactly that, but it made no difference. Henry was on fire, Pires had his best season, Campbell was a rock, Vieira as consistent as ever. Arsenal blew everyone away.
Chelsea
Predicted: 2 / Actual: 2
What I said: Duff, Veron, Cole, Geremi, Lampard are formidable midfielders…new full backs might struggle…strikers Hasselbaink and Gudjohnsen suffer from inconsistency.
What happened?: Geremi, Veron and Cole struggled as it turns out – but Lampard and Terry became stars and Duff, despite consistent injury, was outstanding. The fullbacks didn’t noticeably struggle and if anything both paid off Ranieri’s faith in them. Although well back in second place, under normal circumstances their season would have been good enough to have them challenging until the final week of the season.
Manchester United
Predicted: 1 / Actual: 3
What I said: Underwhelming purchases of Bellion and Djemba-Djemba…millions paid for Ronaldo was a desperation purchase…Darren Fletcher to become the next ‘John O’Shea’.
What happened?: Well I said it was a strange pre-season for Man U and the actual season was just as strange. Ferguson’s war with the Coolmine Mafia, Roy Keane’s on-off return to play for Ireland, players speaking out against the sale of Beckham – and of course fairly rubbish transfer deals. As it turned out, Tim Howard did well for half the season and Darren Fletcher did make his John O’Shea-like first-team breakthrough. Ironically John O’Shea became the next Luke Chadwick, having a torrid time.
Liverpool
Predicted: 4/ Actual: 4
What I said: Problem areas have been addressed in purchasing Kewell (if played in the right position)…question marks remain about Heskey…backbone of Dudek/ Hyppia/ Henchoz/ Gerrard/ Hamann is solid…Houllier must deliver Champions League football.
What happened?: It wasn’t pretty, but he got there in the end. At times, inept. The rest of the time, just phenomenally mediocre. Liverpool had Steven Gerrard and Michael Owen to thank for their elevation to fourth spot. Kewell was poor and Steve Finnan was disappointing. Players like Diao, Diouf, Smicer and Cheryou proved to be lacking in the requisite quality. Houllier is still hanging on by the skin of his teeth.
Newcastle United
Predicted: 5 / Actual: 5
What I said: Team’s current state healthier than it has been for some time…Bowyer is a questionable buy…Jenas, Lua Lua, Ameobi, Ambrose, Viana and Chopra are rising stars.
What happened?: A very inconsistent season despite a run to the semi-finals of the UEFA cup where Marseille outclassed them. In the end they didn’t deserve the Champions league place and players like Viana and Lua Lua look to be on their way out. Overall the promising reputations of Jenas and Dyer took a hit while 44-year-old Alan Shearer carried the injury-plagued Craig Bellamy and bad attitude of Laurent Robert.
Aston Villa
Predicted: 6 / Actual: 6
What I said: Sorensen is a good purchase in nets…Alpay and Angel need to apply themselves better than the previous season…Vassell should reach his full potential.
What happened?: Out of all my predictions, this has to be the one I’m best pleased with. Villa recovered from a dire start to challenge for a Champions league place until they just missed out on the UEFA cup with a home defeat to Man U on the last day. O’Leary will struggle to repeat this feat next season although he has brilliantly trimmed the squad and got the best out of Hitzelsperger, Angel and Mellberg. Alpay hit the road after his disgraceful spat with England players in the Turkey/England game and his canniest signing may have been the under-rated Nolbert Solano from Newcastle. Vassell, ironically, had the most average season of his career.
Charlton Athletic
Predicted: 15 / Actual: 7
What I said: This season will be a step closer to the Premiership trap door…DiCanio should be a good purchase overall but may cause problems in the dressing room…Konchesky looking to leave and Powell/Stuart being a year older will cause issues for them…retaining Scott Parker was a good step as he is a star in the making.
What happened?: Another team who flirted with Champions League qualification before the early 2004 departure of Scott Parker to Chelsea saw their season derail a little. DiCanio did prove a good buy although he faded in the second half of the season. Matty Holland added some stability to midfield and Curbishley managed things admirably giving Charlton their best Premiership season.
Bolton Wanderers
Predicted: 14 / Actual: 8
What I said: Laville is a bargain signing…Ivan Campo improving…under-rated Kevin Davies gets a chance to kick-start his career…Jardel will be crucial if he finds form… Djorkaeff and Okacha will be stars once again.
What happened?: Jardel wasn’t on form. He was out of shape and out of favour, eventually sent packing to Italy. Kevin Davies was a revelation and with Djorkaeff and Okacha not having as strong seasons as last year, it was crucial that players like himself and Kevin Nolan picked up the slack. A Worthington Cup final defeat and a top half finish were remarkable achievements. What can Big Sam do next with this team? Well one thing he can try is to shut up in the press – there was very little that he didn’t have an opinion about and he started to come across as an irritating, opinionated publicity-merchant. And how about smiling at some point?
Fulham
Predicted: 20 / Actual: 9
What I said: Chris Coleman has no money, and no hope…Luis Boa Morte, Barry Hayles and Louis Saha are not good enough for the Premiership…Legwinski, Malbranque and Marlet have not delivered…Sean Davis to shine and get a summer move.
What happened?: Hmmm…was there anyone who didn’t get this so wrong? Fulham were exceptional under Coleman and Louis Saha is so mediocre that he got a £12m transfer to Man U. That proved to be their undoing as they slipped from 4th place to mid-table but there was never a really bad phase in the season and Coleman has the potential to build something in the same vein as Alan Curbishley has at Charlton. Everton, Spurs and Man City, take note. Kudos to Steed Malbranque who was one of the Premiership’s best players this year.
Birmingham
Predicted: 8 / Actual: 10
What I said: Dugarry, Dunn and Taylor all important signings…Robbie Savage and Dunn will become a strong midfield partnership…Bruce has developed a confident and talented team that will hover inside the top ten all season.
What happened?: Pretty much all that and more. Forssell, a late loan signing from Chelsea was outstanding and has been secured for another twelve months. Bruce is one of the most highly regarded managers in the Premiership and along with Curbishley and Coleman, is part of an intriguing power-shift.
Middlesbrough
Predicted: 16 / Actual: 11
What I said: Southgate and Ehiogu formidable at the back…Boateng and Greening adding effectiveness to Juninho’s sparkle…Riggot and Christie need to become stars.
What happened?: Although mainly uninspired, Middlesbrough didn’t really flirt with relegation. They did of course capture their first ever trophy in the form of the Worthington Cup. Juninho was excellent and Southgate a real leader alongside long-term injury victim, Ugo Ehiogu. But Boro really personify mid-table mediocrity. They are the new Spurs if you like.
Southampton
Predicted: 12 / Actual: 12
What I said: Strachan under pressure to match last season’s success…his questionable management really being put to the test now…Beattie will not bag as many as last year but now has a decent partner in Kevin Phillips…David Prutton will deliver quality performances.
What happened?: Strachan lost his hunger and announced that he was leaving at the end of the season. As it happened he left a bit earlier than that and Plymouth manager Paul Sturrock took over mid-season. Kevin Phillips had a rousing late-run and Kevin Beattie performed well enough, as he bagged 14 of their combined 27 goals. Prutton did ok, but not as well as expected. Overall it was a bit of a disappointment.
Portsmouth
Predicted: 11 / Actual: 13
What I said: Losing Merson was a blow…Teddy and Berger were clever signings…Yakubu and Pericard were crucial permanent deals…best placed of all the promoted teams to survive.
What happened?: Rumours of a rumpus between owner Milan Mandric and Harry Redknapp over-shadowed a battling run by Pompey to pull well clear of relegation in the end. Yakubu netted 19 times, Teddy scored 9 and Lua Lua scored crucial goals after arriving on loan from Newcastle, including a last minute goal to deny his permanent employers victory. Next season will be difficult with Todorov out with a long-term injury, Sheringham off to pastures new, Lua Lua’s permanent move in the balance, the influential Alexi Smertin possibly going back to Chelsea, Patrik Berger proving injury-prone, Tim Sherwood out of action since 2003 and Steve Stone getting a year older. And will Redknapp still be around? But it’s mission accomplished for 2004.
Tottenham Hotspur
Predicted: 10 / Actual: 14
What I said: Hoddle might struggle to balance his four choices in attack of Robbie Keane, Freddie Kanouté, Helder Postiga and Bobby Zamora…problems in midfield with Redknapp/Anderton…problems in defence with King and Gardner struggling for form and Richards missed if injured…Hoddle on borrowed time…Rohan Ricketts is a future star.
What happened?: Hoddle lasted only six weeks before he got his marching orders (by phone!). David Pleat took over and Spurs lurched from one disaster to another. Mabizela spent the season on the bench, Postiga went from being useless to injured, Zamora was traded to West Ham in part-exchange for Jermaine Defoe and Freddie Kanouté preferred to spent the winter with Mali at the African Nations. So it was only the ineptness of those around them and back-to-back wins in the final games that saw Spurs very safe in the end. Rohan Ricketts was superb early season before David Pleat put him in the reserves for reasons unknown.
Blackburn Rovers
Predicted: 7 / Actual: 15
What I said: Amoruso is a questionable signing…Duff a big loss…Reid and Emerton are crucial signings with Steven Reid set to be the next big thing.
What happened?: The only person Graeme Souness didn’t fall out with was….oh hang on, there was no one. Andy Todd, Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole fought running battles with Souness all-season and Emerton and Reid did not prove adequate replacements for Damien Duff and David Dunn. Amoruso proved to be inept at Premiership level and only the signing of John Stead from third-division Huddersfield helped propel Rovers up the table with four wins on the trot, including one over Man U.
Manchester City
Predicted: 9 / Actual: 16
What I said: Will life begin at 40 for Seaman?…Tarnat, Sinclair and Bosvelt should shake things up…Anelka and Robbie Fowler will rattle the net plenty of times…not too much wrong with City that fundamental coaching wouldn’t sort out…Shaun Wright-Philips will have a few days in the sun.
What happened?: Life ended at 40 for Seamo with injury forcing his retirement early in the season – possibly aided by some appalling mistakes. David James proved a better acquisition from West Ham. Wright-Philips was outstanding all season and Anelka, despite his sulks, netted 25 times. Surely he will move on? Robbie Fowler was erratic but improved as the season went on – just 7 strikes for him though. But it was an awful season and the City board need to replace Keegan before he takes them down.
Everton
Predicted: 13 / Actual: 17
What I said: No money for David Moyes…team will struggle to match last season…Steve Watson will continue to enhance his reputation as one of the leagues most versatile performers.
What happened?: “Can’t get blood from a stone” was the phrase I used to describe David Moyes challenge this season. And that’s what was proven to be the case. Although never in the bottom three, Everton couldn’t string a couple of decent performances together. Radzinski disappointed and Rooney only showed flashes of his talent, although he was their best player. Watson had another decent season but is not good enough to inspire the team in to the top half.
Leicester
Predicted: 18 / Actual: 18
What I said: Banking your future on the likes of Sir Les, Steve Howey and Craig Hignett is a mistake…best buy is Ricardo Scimeca from Nottm Forest…Gillespie should add some quality.
What happened?: Indeed there was too many new players and few of real quality. Les Ferdinand turned out to be the star of the team, like Paul Dickov, scoring double figures. Rape allegations against three members of the squad during a break in La Manga undermined their relegation fight and they eventually lost that fight without much of a struggle. Totally outclassed all season.
Leeds United
Predicted: 17 / Actual: 19
What I said: Peter Reid took the job from hell…Leeds will struggle to stay afloat after being asset-stripped…midfield is lightweight, defence is porous…has David Batty still got it?
What happened?: No. He hadn’t. Batty was cast aside early in 2004 by caretaker manager Stuart Gray after he replaced hapless Peter Reid who signed off with a 1-6 reverse to Portsmouth. The team – full of foreign loan signings like Sahko, Roque Junior, Domi and Camara – were a shambles. Only Milner, Pennant and occasionally Alan Smith delivered any real quality. Never has a team deserved to go down so much.
Leeds United
Predicted: 17 / Actual: 19
What I said: Peter Reid took the job from hell…Leeds will struggle to stay afloat after being asset-stripped…midfield is lightweight, defence is porous…has David Batty still got it?
What happened?: No. He hadn’t. Batty was cast aside early in 2004 by caretaker manager Stuart Gray after he replaced hapless Peter Reid who signed off with a 1-6 reverse to Portsmouth. The team – full of foreign loan signings like Sahko, Roque Junior, Domi and Camara – were a shambles. Only Milner, Pennant and occasionally Alan Smith delivered any real quality. Never has a team deserved to go down so much.
Wolverhampton Wanderers
Predicted: 19 / Actual: 20
What I said: Jones desire might be the only thing that keeps Wolves up despite the signing of internationals like Iversen, Camara and Luzhny…too many better teams…Jolean Lescott should break in to the England squad.
What happened?: Silas, Iversen and Luzhny made 17 starts between them. Only for Alex Rae and Colin Cameron’s hard work and application and Henri Camara’s inspired form (and 7 goals) there would have been little to cheer for Wolves fans. They had a gutsy run in April that gave some brief hope of a brave escape but the quality just wasn’t there. And Saddam Hussein was closer to an England call up than Lescott was.

The final table

Act Pred Team
01 03 Arsenal
02 02 Chelsea
03 01 Man Utd
04 04 Liverpool
05 05 Newcastle
06 06 Aston Villa
07 15 Charlton
08 14 Bolton
09 20 Fulham
10 08 Birmingham
11 16 Middlesbrough
12 12 Southampton
13 11 Portsmouth
14 10 Tottenham
15 07 Blackburn
16 09 Man City
17 13 Everton
18 18 Leicester
19 17 Leeds
20 19 Wolves

Analysis

Ok so I badly got the Fulham thing wrong, and hugely underestimated Charlton and Bolton’s seasons. Getting the top six almost in perfect order was pretty good if I must say so myself. Mid table is general predictable and this was no different Birmingham, Middlesbrough and Southampton were always going to be there or thereabouts.

Down the bottom, all three were going to be close to odds-on to go down, but it was a surprise that Blackburn, Everton, Man City and Spurs toyed with the idea of dropping a division for so long.

And finally…

If you haven’t got an opinion, you haven’t got a mind they say. Well actually, they don’t. I just made it up – but it’s true. And in my opinion the fact that Gérard Houllier is still in charge of Liverpool is a complete mystery to me. The fans are split 50-50 on him, most of his supporters seeming to offer evidence along the lines of ‘he’s a nice man’, ‘he’s brought through Stevie G’, ‘he got us in to the Champions League’, ‘he won five trophies three years ago’.

But there’s loads of ammunition for those who are utterly sick of the sight of him – terrible football, millions wasted on mediocrity, poor results, lack of ambition. He was fortunate to get away with last season and even the season of five trophies was really all about a crazy 5-4 win in the UEFA cup final, a very lucky win over Birmingham in the Worthington Cup and that late, late turnaround in the FA Cup against Arsenal. If they’d had some bad luck, they would have ended up with nothing except maybe a Charity shield.

Houllier is one of my football manager pet hates. It’s always someone else’s fault except his – bad luck, referees, violent opponents, injuries…

He’s an arsehole. If he does indeed get the boot this summer it will be hugely deserved. Maybe I can start to appreciate Liverpool the way I did under Roy Evans.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s