Tag Archives: chelsea

No Point Lane for Jose and his Conspiracy Campaign

Conspiracy TheoryIf Jose Mourinho’s in-match performance was his usual artful theater, his post-match turn had the whiff of a whodunit mystery with some B-movie conspiracy theory waffle thrown in for good measure.

Despite his side conceding five goals at White Hart Lane (one win in nine league games for Chelsea now at so-called Three Point Lane), Mourinho chose to focus on the non-award of a penalty for a handball by Jan Vertonghen in the first half as the main reason for his team’s collapse.

In the interviews I watched, Jose said

We had the biggest opportunity to score the second goal which is a shot from the penalty spot.

I honestly had no idea which incident he was referring to until I dug further in to online commentary. This was the straw that Mourinho was clinging to – a clearly accidental handball by a falling defender -ball-to-hand, as Jose himself would no doubt be quick to highlight should, say, Gary Cahill been the victim of the same circumstance.

Jose Complaining

Jose also bemoaned the “honest” Eden Hazard who fell to ground after a tackle from Federico Fazio on the edge of the Tottenham box.

He’s a very honest guy in the way he plays but that’s another problem.

Based on his sideline histrionics, Jose clearly saw this incident as a foul. Hazard? Not so much. He immediately got to his feet after the tackle with no appeal to the referee. The Chelsea manager admitted that Hazard confirmed it was not a foul.

So that is good, in spite the fact Mr Dowd was too slow to follow that ball. He was 40 yards away but made the right decision. The decision in the first half, he was 10m away he couldn’t make.

When confronted with the evidence that Gary Cahill had, unprovoked, kicked the prone Harry Kane in the back while on the ground, Mourinho’s response was one of pure deflection.

I didn’t see that. But it was like the back – not like Sterling in the face?

It continues the “conspiracy” narrative that Mourinho started in the last week, his not-so-subtle attempt to pressure officials in to giving his players the benefit of the doubt in future games.

Even when he’s not accusing the officials of cheating him and his team, he’s extremely ungracious in defeat.

I hate to lose, of course, but I prefer to lose like I did against Newcastle with a clean performance by (referee Martin) Atkinson, an unlucky performance by us, a lucky performance by Newcastle. But a game you lose because of football.

And there’s not really anything wrong with that outside of it just making you an arsehole.

Mourinho is a great manager. He’s proven that time and again. But is he a great manager because he’s an arsehole or a great manager who happens to be an arsehole?

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The Premier League Season Prediction Extravaganza – Part 4: The European Contenders

Continuation from Part 1Part 2 and Part 3.

8 Tottenham
Ooh, it’s not going to be pretty this year. Tottenham are doomed! At least that’s what I’m reading. Spurs sacked the manager who had brought them their most success in 50 years, hired a manager who lasted a wet weekend in west London, sold all their strikers apart from the “diminutive” Jermaine Defoe, sent inspirational kneeless miracle Ledley King to the knackers yard and refuse to sell a mop-headed Croatian “schemer” who would rather spend weekends in the stands with David Bentley and Jermain Jenas (please!) than give Daniel Levy another 90 minutes of half-arsed inventiveness. If you’re a Spurs fan at the moment you’re either apathetic or apoplectic (you can’t be both – it’s a biological impossibility). Levy will probably make a couple of panic signings at four minutes to closing that will make Oyvind Leonhardsen and Roman Pavlyuchenko look like wily business. But when all is taken in to account this could be an almighty mess in N17.

7 Newcastle United
I think everyone is waiting for the Alan Pardew rehabilitation to fall apart and for him to return to the joke status that saw him kicked out of West Ham, Charlton and Southampton. Actually his record at Southampton was quite good and it was reportedly internal conflicts that led to his dismissal. Regardless of his perceived abilities you can’t deny that Pardew has played his part in turning Newcastle in to a relatively good Premier League side. He’s not spent a lot of money and the likes of Hatem Ben Arfa, Papiss Cisse, Demba Ba, Cheick Tiote and Yohan Cabaye have proven to be excellent Premier League players. Jonás Gutiérrez and Fabricio Coloccini have also turned their careers around under Pardew although he has not repeated the same trick with Xisco. Yes, he’s still there. Newcastle will do well this season although they are more likely to hover between 6th and 10th.

6 Everton

Small squad and all that Everton have, they have (so far) managed to hold on to key players. Yes, Jack Rodwell has left but bagging 15 million pounds for a player who wasn’t always in the team is not bad business and Tim Cahill’s powers were waning so it was a good time for him to move on. Replacing Tim Cahill is former Rangers midfielder Steven Naismith who joins former Ibrox man Nikica Jelavic – and scorer of 9 goals in 13 games last season – at the club. Keeping Phil Jagielka, Leighton Baines and Marouane Fellaini were positives too and if they stay relatively clear of injury, this is one of the most impressive teams outside of the top four.

5 Chelsea
Most of what I’m reading from Chelsea fans online is that everything is going to be fine once the season starts and we (people who are not Chelsea fans) should not worry. Well obviously we’re not worried but you know how condescension works. Maybe Chelsea fans should feel a little insecure about their position this year though. Roberto Di Matteo doesn’t have the glamour that Abramovich wants and if Pep Guardiola agreed to become Chelsea manager next month, Di Matteo would be gone. There’s an unconvincing air about the Italian in spite of the trophies and the respectable win percentage. Aside from that, there are questions to be asked about the recruitment policy. The back four needed some investment but 60 million pounds was spent on the attacking midfield trio of Marko Marin, Eden Hazard and Oscar instead. With Juan Mata, Ramires and (some would argue) Frank Lampard deserving of places in the first XI, you have to wonder how Di Matteo can keep all these midfielders happy. And with only Torres and Daniel Sturridge as out-and-out strikers, is Abramovich – sorry I meant Di Matteo – looking to mimic Spain’s 4-6-0 formation? And what happens to Essien, Mikel, Malouda, Merieles, Sturridge, Benayoun and whoever else is omitted regularly? It just seems bloated and out of control at Chelsea right now and that’s why I wonder if the project might blow up in their face a little.

Part 5 to be posted later tonight.

Hey Luka, let’s take a walk

Hey Luka, let’s take a walk

Bit embarrassing for Spurs to see the phrase ‘Levy threatened me’ in the headlines today.  Luka Modric insists that not only has Spurs chairman Daniel Levy reneged on an agreement to consider any bid from a “bigger club”, but he also “threatened” to leave Modric in the stands or on the bench if he causes any trouble.  It brings to mind an image of a maniacal, trench coat-wearing Levy pointing a baseball bat at poor little Luka as he cowers in the corner in the new Spurs away kit.

I covered the topic before about how everyone shared a little bit of blame for this situation.  Modric and his agent may have asked for a minimum fee release clause when negotiating their new contract 12 months ago and were met with this reported verbal counter-offer from Levy.  Naive on their part to accept this – but then again they were happy at the time with the improved terms, signing-on fee and agent cut, no doubt.

Nevertheless, it looks like the damage is done and Spurs have little choice now but to move Modric on.  The bid, of course, is a joke.  When you consider that Manchester United paid £18m for a far inferior player five years ago, Spurs need to hold out for close to double that – or for a smaller amount and perhaps Drogba or Sturridge in exchange.  Personally I’d take both strikers with some cash.

What a Jonny

Probably made up, but some sites are reporting that Spurs want to take Northern Ireland international Jonny Evans from Old Trafford. Evans is an average player who was accidentally overrated as a result of looking competent while playing alongside top class players.  Anyone can have a good half-season (see Bentley, David) but the last 12 months has not been kind to Evans.  If he stays then he’ll probably become the new Wes Brown, filling in for unimportant games and the occasional appearance at right back.

While I’m at it can I nail my colours to the mast and say that I’m not buying in to this Danny Welbeck thing.  He’s someone who could end up having a decent Premier League career but it won’t be at Old Trafford (see Higginbotham, Danny or Campbell, Frazier).  I feel sorry for young players who have a couple of good games for United because they are instantly elevated way above their station.  For the record I see more potential in Federico Macheda although, like Giuseppi Rossi, he may make his name abroad.

Defending Liverpool

£16m or £20m, it's still a lot of money for Henderson.

I tend to delve in to the Football365 mailbox to find out what the fans are thinking and those of Liverpool have been vigorously defending their clubs transfer policy in recent days.

There is some scoffing from other team’s fans at the money paid for Jordan Henderson, Andy Carroll, the signing of Charlie Adam and the targeting of Stewart Downing.  One of the defences from Merseyside is that the £7-8m paid for Charlie Adam compares very favourably to the figure that Manchester United paid for Michael Carrick five years ago or that Fergie’s bit-part midfielder Anderson cost more than Jordan Henderson or that the purported £19m fee for Downing is not far off what Antonio Valencia cost United a few years ago.

But the comparisons don’t make much sense.  In the last Deloitte football finance report, United were shown to generate an annual revenue exceeding Liverpool’s by £100m.   Another year away from the Champions League means that the gap will only get wider.  Just because the Old Trafford club overpay for a player like Valencia or Anderson bears no relation to what Liverpool are doing.  After all, United could bring Garry Birtles out of retirement, pay him five million a year and still win the title.

Tottenham may be out of Luk-a.

I’m a little surprised that Luka Modric has felt compelled to try and worm his way out of Tottenham.  All evidence suggests that he’s a decent little chap, not hugely motivated by money in a Carlos Tevez-type way and, at a still-relatively young age, has plenty of time to make his mark in world football.

But his blabbing to the Daily Mail on Friday was hugely disappointing.

“Chelsea are a big club with an ambitious owner.  They have great players and they have ambitions to fight for the title and win the Champions League.  I want to leave Tottenham as friends. I have enjoyed my time there, but now it is right for me to look at another club.  I have an arrangement with the chairman. When I signed my new contract, he said that, if another club came to sign me, they would consider the offer.”

He kind of looks like a more floppy-haired Peter Crouch here.

If Luka is genuinely unhappy then Spurs would risk unsettling the squad if they forced him to stick around.  Just look at the Berbatov mess from 2008.  Cesc Fabregas and Barcelona flirt with each other every year, but the almost-guaranteed Champions League football and the persuasive Professor manage to convince Cesc to stick around for just one more year.

Spurs don’t really have an equivalent persuasion.  You think Modric can be lured by Europa League games against Sligo Rovers or the promise of some jellied eels from ‘Arry?

So who’s to blame the most for what could become an unseemly squabble this summer?

Luka

To hear the little man signed a six year deal on £40k a week was a surprise.  Didn’t he think that wasn’t a great deal of money in the scheme of things?  I mean Robbie Keane – a player Tottenham have been trying to offload for two years – is reportedly on £60k a week.  Ok Luka’s made an unsubstantiated claim that Levy promised to entertain any bids for him but if it’s not written in to the contract that it’s not worth the paper it’s not written on.  I know in the real world of football, players and agents are happy to sign the contracts knowing that they can simply request a move and cause a ruckus if it’s not granted.

But I have little sympathy for a player who willingly signs a long-term deal that makes them a millionaire and then shows total disdain for the fans that – and yes I’m going to say it – pays his wages.  Does the contract have a get-out clause if Spurs fail to finish in the top four or if a bid of £30m comes in?  If not then shame on you and your agent.  I mean you signed it twelve months ago.

Luka definitely deserves a pay rise but what’s the point in, say, doubling his wages when Chelsea can triple them.

‘Arry

Perhaps if ‘Arry had guided Spurs in to the top four then there would be nothing to discuss.  I’ve cut Redknapp some slack in the last year or so because, you know, fair play, he has achieved something.  But when you can’t beat flipping West Ham, Birmingham, Wolves, Wigan and Blackpool then you deserve criticism.  The standard last year was brutal yet Spurs made a total mess of it.  And I’m sure Luka is looking at Redknapp’s squad building (basically the signing of some fairly old people) and thinking ‘we haven’t got any chance next season’.

Levy

Daniel has come out with his usual ‘not for sale at any price’ quote (pretty sure he said that about Berbatov).  While he has no choice but to say that, it does of course leave him somewhat exposed: Chelsea raise their bid, Luka and his agent dig their heels in, he relents.  Everyone has a price and it’s ridiculous to suggest they don’t.  But it’s a rock/hard place scenario for him.  He can’t signal an intent to sell as that will fuel Luka’s conviction to go.  He’s probably trying to buy some time while he figures out if Luka can be sweet-talked in to staying for another twelve months, perhaps on the back of a renegotiated contract with a release clause.  But if that doesn’t happen then he’s going to look a bit silly.

The media

Nothing we can do about it.  They want stories so players have to be unsettled in order to get those stories.  There’s only so much interest in Wayne Rooney’s transplant or Jack Rodwell’s insanity.  They’re doing their job and they do it without any fear of reprisal (apart from maybe being banned by Fergie for asking a polite question).  Nothing has to be substantiated and they answer to nobody.  It’s insane.  Once the Modric thing is done and dusted, they’ll start offering Gareth Bale to Inter.

Everybody’s got a price

I say that every player has his price and Chelsea seem to think it’s £22m.  Well they probably don’t but it’s as good a place to start as any.  Harry made the humorous comparison to Jordan Henderson – the curiously expensive transfer from Sunderland to Liverpool – suggesting, indirectly, that he’s not fit to lace Luka’s boots.  A bit vulgar and unfair perhaps, but it underlines what just about everyone at Spurs probably thinks.  You spend £16.5m on a player, a player that is then widely regarded as one of the best midfielders in the league, you expect to make some serious money on him.

If Modric does go I expect it will be for about £30-35m.  Do I think he’s worth it?  To Spurs, yes.  To someone else, probably not.  He’s a lovely footballer but he’s not a match-winner.  He doesn’t score goals and he usually plays too deep to open up defences.  Now perhaps he can adapt to a more forward role but that’s an unknown.

If Spurs do get that sort of money for him then they would have to take it.  Let’s just hope ‘Arry doesn’t pull “another” masterstroke and replace him with that tortoise, Carrick.

The eighth best player of all time

While I was relieved that Tottenham’s £25m bid for Newcastle’s Andy Carroll was rejected, I was still dismayed that Harry Redknapp could think that the striker was worth a punt at that money.

Then along came Liverpool’s new owners, Fenway Sports Group, making demeaning ‘pfft’ sounds as they shoved ‘Arry out of the way and threw £35m at Newcastle (who hilariously rejected the offer at first).  Of course common sense took over as Newcastle owner Mike Ashley recalled that he had offered Carroll to Liverpool’s first team coach Steve Clarke for £1m while he was at West Ham.  Gift horse. Mouth.

Something feels a little impulsive about Fenway’s decision to spend such a huge amount of money on someone like Carroll.  Maybe the desire to appease and please the jaded Liverpool fans caused them to lose sight of reality a little; a bit like a guy who buys a girl an extravagant and inappropriate gift after just one date.  I mean eighteen months ago Carroll was the enthusiastic half of a comedy forward line with Shola Ameobi.  Now he’s the eighth most expensive transfer of all time.

Fans and pundits have been having fun with the numbers all day.  Carroll is Mesut Ozil+Sami Khedira+Van Der Vaart+Javier Hernandez.  Or 583 Seamus Colemans.

And the truth is that only time will tell if this remarkable transfer is value for money for Liverpool.  As Johnny Giles loves to say while giving his opinion: ‘We can only give our opinion, Bill.  We can only go by what we see on the pitch.’  And what we have seen on the pitch from Andy Carroll is a good five months in the Premier League with an average team and a relatively impressive England performance.  It’s not a lot to go on.

Yes, he’s got the physical attributes and can score goals.  But Dalglish should have concerns about his off-the-pitch behaviour with Carroll, at 22, guilty of nightclub fights, charged with assaulting an ex-girlfriend and breaking his team-mates jaw.  His name has also been splashed across the front pages with the words “cocaine” and “orgy” in close proximity.  His behaviour would lead any rational observer to conclude that Carroll is an out-of-control yob.

Three and a half seasons ago Liverpool spent £23m on, arguably, a world class talent.  The day they sold that world class talent on (at 100%-plus profit) they recruit a one-cap striker with 34 career goals (only 14 of those in the top flight).

The perceived absurdity of the transfer has pushed every other move in to the background.  Sure, the £50m for Torres is a lot of money but, on form, he’s one of the best strikers in the world.

The real David Ngog. Shit outta luck.

Liverpool’s other big money signing (for the same fee that they paid for Torres in 2007), Luis Suarez, has a great goalscoring record in the Netherlands.  But so too did Dirk Kuyt, Mateja Kežman and Afonso Alves.  Former Tottenham player Mounir El Hamdaoui has scored 96 goals in 178 Eredivisie games but was not deemed good enough to make a single appearance at White Hart Lane.  One wonders if Suarez will make the sort of impact that his fee suggests he should.

Conventional wisdom suggests that Liverpool’s return won’t be worth the £58m outlay (especially while they contrive to buy no wingers) but if they manage to salvage some pride from the season and qualify at least for the Europa League then their fans won’t give a toss.

Premier League Preview 2009/10 [Part 1]

As is traditional – sometimes – here is part one of a rundown of how I see the Premier League panning out this year.

1st Liverpool

Last season: 2nd

Transfers in: Glen Johnson (£18m, Portsmouth), Alberto Aquilani (£20m. Roma)

Transfers out: Sebastian Leto (£1.3m, Panathinaikos), Jermaine Pennant (free, Zaragoza), Sami Hyppia (free, Bayer Leverkusen), Alvaro Arbeloa (£3.5m, Real Madrid), Xabi Alonso (£30m, Real Madrid)

I quickly tipped Liverpool for the title after last season’s impressive final months where they pressed an out-of-sorts Manchester United right up until the point where Andrei Arshavin made a mockery of their defence at Anfield.

The loss of Xabi Alonso has me less certain of that outcome now and, knowing very little about his replacement Aquilani outside of his apparent injury proneness, the jury will remain out on that front.

Questions remain over Alberto Riera, David Ngog, Ryan Babel, Nabil El Zhar and Leiva Lucas but Dirk Kuyt and Yossi Benayoun played their part last season.

Key to their success: Fernando Torres must play about 30 league games, Steven Gerard must stay out of bar fights and Aquilani will have to exert his presence in midfield alongside Mascherano.  Benitez must also stop being such an arsehole.  He’s just not very good at it.

2nd Manchester United

Last season: 1st

Transfers in: Luis Antonio Valencia (£16m, Wigan), Michael Owen (free, Newcastle), Gabriel Obertan (£3m, Bordeaux)

Transfers out: Cristiano Ronaldo (£80m, Real Madrid), Frazier Campbell (£3.5m, Sunderland), Carlos Tevez (free, Manchester City), Richard Eckersley (free, Burnley)

Without Tevez (5 league goals last season) and Ronaldo (18 goals) it’s hard to gauge where United are going to be vis-à-vis last season.  I like Tevez but only in a mid-table, hard-working, headless-chicken type way.  I don’t think he’s any great loss to a team chasing the title.  Considering he netted just five times in the league last year it is not hard to imagine that Michael Owen is going to double that tally at least.

With Ronaldo moving on (replaced by the highly-rated Valencia) it’s possible we might see more character from a shaken Dimitar Berbatov who struggled in the second half of last season.  The Bulgarian needs the world to revolve around him and with Ronaldo not stepping on his mojo anymore it’s quite possible that Old Trafford will see the best of him.

Key to their success: Deploying Rooney in a forward role would help.  That whole “left wing” thing in the Champions League really is a waste of his brute force.  The defence is a concern for United though with van der Sar another year older and the Ferdinand/Vidic axis disturbed by injury so frequently.  Jonny Evans doesn’t do much for me as of yet and Gary Neville must be nearly 100 now.

3rd Chelsea

Last season: 3rd

Transfers in: Ross Turnbull (free, Middlesbrough), Daniel Sturridge (tribunal, Man City), Yuri Zhirkov (£18m, CSKA

This is Ross Turnbull.

This is Ross Turnbull

Moscow)

Transfers out: Ben Sahar (£1m, Espanyol), Frank Nouble (free, West Ham)

Hard to see much movement from Chelsea this year after a surprisingly quiet pre-season.  There were flirtations with Andrea Pirlo that went nowhere and in the end left-sided attacker Yuri Zhirkov was an £18m capture.  Outside of that there was the underwhelming signing of Ross Turnbull from Middlesbrough who last played for them in January this year in a 0-2 defeat to Chelsea.  Daniel Sturridge rejected a contract at Manchester City to move to Stamford Bridge but although he shows potential it’s hard to see him getting a look in for a few seasons.

Key to their success: Plenty of experience in what is a very stable team.  Cech, Terry, Carvalho, Essien, Lampard and Drogba is an impressive spine.  However, the team is ageing and time is running out.  It also looks pretty narrow but we’ll see what role Zhirkov plays in the first XI.

4th Arsenal

Last season: 4th

Transfers in: Thomas Vermaelen (Ajax)

Transfers out: Emmanuel Adebayor (£25m, Man City), Touré (£16m, Man City)

They might have pulled in over £40m for two first team players but it’s only benefiting the hard-up bankers while it sits in their current account.  I understood them moving out both players in that Adebayor had become a target for the boo boys and was itching for a move for a while while Touré was struggling to recover his form of a few seasons ago.

But I’d never understand moving a player out without a replacement in mind.  Arsene Wenger may have brought in Thomas Vermaelen but a lot of fans would have issue with most of the other centre back options such as Mikael Silvestre, William Gallas and Philippe Senderos.  Alexandre Song and Johan Djourou are two other players in the running but are they good enough?

Key to their success: Injuries are taking their toll already with Samir Nasri, Tomáš Rosicky and Theo Walcott ruled out of the opening game against Everton.  There’s plenty of quality in the first XI but I’m not sure Arsenal can compete while Wenger persists with the likes of Diaby, Denilson, Eboué, Song and Nicklas Bendtner.  I’m sure Jack Wilshere will make his mark this season.

5th Man City

Last season: 10th

Transfers in: Gareth Barry (£12m, Aston Villa), Stuart Taylor (free, Aston Villa), Roque Santa Cruz (£17.5m, Blackburn), Carlos Tevez (£25m, Man Utd), Emmanuel Adebayor (£25m, Arsenal), Kolo Toure (£16m, Arsenal)

Transfers out: Ched Evans (£3m, Sheffield United), Elano (£8m, Galatasaray), Daniel Sturridge (tribunal, Chelsea), Gelson Fernandez (undisclosed, St Etienne), Darius Vassell, Dietmar Hamann, Danny Mills, Michael Ball, (all released)

Lots of ins and outs at Manchester City which have been discussed to death.  In came top, top players like … Gareth Barry.  Yes, I’m not that impressed. Sure, it’s an improvement on what has come before but not one of the new players could be described as being world class.  Where is City’s Fernando Torres, Steven Gerard, Wayne Rooney or Cristiano Ronaldo?  They went for John Terry and now they’re struggling to get Joleon Lescott – and may end up with Matthew Upson.

I’m not too keen on how they’re running their mouth either.  Mark Hughes has always come across as a great guy but the way he’s conducting his transfer business through the media recently has stuck in the throat.  Just like Benitez and Redknapp, he’s not very good at it.

Key to their success: I suppose it’s going to be a case of everything just clicking or otherwise.  They’ve bought good players even if they have overpaid for them.  I’ll be more interested in seeing the likes of Stephen Ireland and Michael Johnson making progress this year.  I’ll also be interested to see what happens to Mark Hughes if City are 9th in November.

6th Everton

Last season: 5th

Transfers in: Jo (loan, Man City)

Transfers out: Lars Jacobsen (free, Blackburn)

The battle lines are drawn in Hughes versus Moyes.  In reference to the long-running Man City move for Everton defender Joleon Lescott, Hughes said: “We are still trying to speak to the people who will ultimately make the decision over whether or not the deal continues.”

Meow.  Moyes responded: “I hear City think they are talking to people who make the decisions here.  Well, that’s me.”

A lot might hinge on how this plays out.  Lescott is an important player for Everton but letting him go to their rivals would be a double whammy for Moyes.  Year after year he struggles to bring players in but continues to conduct miracles.  If the club sell Lescott over his head then he should walk out, simple as.

As for Lescott, well he has no reason to want to go to Manchester City having been happy to sign a four year deal last year.  Why didn’t he just sign a two year deal or not sign a deal at all and chance his arm at the end of his current deal?  The players like the security of a long-term, lucrative contract but then like to have their cake and eat it too.  Put him in the reserves until his contract runs out.  Let him take it to the Court of Human Rights or whatever.

Elsewhere, Everton are unchanged.  It’s a small squad but well organised and managed.  Unfortunately they are no closer the top four than they were last season.

Key to their success: Being more than the sum of their parts is what got them through last season and it’ll be the same again.  Louis Saha needs to stay fit and the midfield duo of Arteta and Cahill need to keep chipping in with the goals.  But I do worry that they’ll have enough this year.

7th Aston Villa

Last season: 6th

Transfers in: Stewart Downing (£12m, Middlesbrough), Fabian Delph (undisclosed, Leeds), Habib Beye (£2.5m, Newcastle)

Transfers out: Gareth Barry (£12m, Man City), Stewart Taylor (free, Man City), Zat Knight (£4m, Bolton)

There are a few discontented voices doing the rounds at Villa Park at the moment.  It might seem a bit ungracious coming from fans who had to endure the Graham Taylor and David O’Leary years but this is a well-known by-product of relative success.

Villa were a shambles in the last three months of the season with their only wins coming narrowly at home to relegation candidates Hull and Newcastle.  While O’Neill has built a good side there’s something a bit “also-ran” about some of the players he has chosen.  Steve Sidwell, Zat Knight, Marlon Harewood, Stewart Downing, Nigel Reo-Coker, Curtis Davies and (yes, current England international) Emile Heskey are not top four quality talents.  And – although it may be paper talk – links to utter mediocrity like Jermaine Jenas and David Bentley don’t dilute that view for me.

Key to their success: The point I’m trying to get across is that in amongst the few quality talents like Ashley Young, Brad Friedel and John Carew there are a lot of players just not up to it.  The move for Fabian Delph might be inspired but probably not enough to push Villa in to the top four.  I like the club and would love to see them legitimately challenge but I think the ship may have sailed and expectations are now unhealthily high.

8th Sunderland

Last season: 16th

Transfers in: Frazier Campbell (£6m, Man Utd), Darren Bent (£10m, Tottenham), Lorik Cana (£5m, Marseille), Lee

Lorik Cana. Total hardass.

Lorik Cana. Total hardass.

Cattermole (£6m, Wigan)

Transfers out: Greg Halford (£2m, Wolves), Michael Chopra (£4m, Cardiff), Dean Whitehead (£3m, Stoke)

This is my wild card prediction for next season.  Steve Bruce hasn’t always impressed me – his latter days at Birmingham were fairly poor.  But at Wigan, in spite of losing his best players to bigger clubs (Ryan Taylor, Emile Heskey, Wilson Palacios), he managed to keep the ship steadied and safely in the Premier League.

This season his challenge is different, namely guiding a so-called bigger club  who have undergone a rollercoaster few seasons under Roy Keane, to safe waters.  It’ll be his aim to find mid-table with Sunderland this year and further trimming the squad of superfluous talents like Paul McShane, David Healy and Daryl Murphy.  Basically Irish players.

Key to their success: The Kenwyne Jones/Darren Bent double-act will be crucial with Bruce needing about 12-15 goals from each striker.  He’ll probably get goals from midfield too with Kieran Richardson and Steed Malbranque capable wide players with creative guile.  At the back he will probably mould a better unit than either Keane or Ricky Sbragia were able to but I still think he needs a centre back.  The midfield partnership of Lee Cattermole and Lorik Cana should offer more protection to that troubled back four in the meantime.

9th Tottenham

Last season: 8th

Transfers in: Kyle Naughton (undisclosed, Sheffield United), Kyle Walker (undisclosed, Sheffield United), Peter

What is this??

What is this??

Crouch (£9m, Portsmouth), Sebastian Bassong (£10m, Newcastle)

Transfers out: Didier Zokora (£8.5m, Seville), Chris Gunter (£1.75m, Nottingham Forest), Darren Bent (£10m, Sunderland), Gilberto (released)

I am a fan of Tottenham.  I’m not a fan of ‘Arry Redknapp.  I make no apologies for it.

Since he arrived less than a year ago he has brought Robbie Keane, Pascal Chimbonda, Jermaine Defoe and Peter Crouch back to the club.  In the case of Keane and Chimbonda it seems to have been a mistake.  In the case of Defoe and Crouch, well, the jury is out.

The signing of Kyle Naughton looks to be good business in the little bit I’ve seen of him.  But I remain disappointed that he can find no place for Giovani Dos Santos, Adel Taarabt or young players who have looked solid in pre-season like Jake Livermore.

Yet Jermaine Jenas still gets a game.

Key to their success: Last season was relatively successful for Redknapp but I remain unconvinced that he has got it right this summer.  Where is the left midfielder?  Who will partner Wilson Palacios in midfield?  If he persists with Modric on the left and Jenas in the middle then I don’t think Spurs will make any ground on the top four this year.  Good to see Crouch at the club and I don’t buy in to this “his presence forces you to play direct to him” complaint.  If your players are wily enough then they will exploit any gaps that Crouch’s presence helps expose – that’s the theory anyway.

10th Blackburn

Last season: 15th

Transfers in: Lars Jacobsen (free, Everton), Steven N’Zonzi (£500k, Amiens), Gael Givet (£3.5m, Marseille), Nikos

His name is Gael

His name is Gael

Giannakopoulos (£50k, Asteras Tripolis), Elrio Van Heerden (free, Bruges), Nikola Kalinic (Hadjuk Split, £6m)

Transfers out: Matt Derbyshire (£3m, Olympiakos), Roque Santa Cruz (£17.5m, Man City), Aaron Mokoena (free, Portsmouth), Andrew Ooijer (undisclosed, PSV)

Sam Allardyce rescued his reputation at Blackburn last season following his disastrous spell at Newcastle.  His renaissance of the club was done with pretty much the same resources that previous incumbent Paul Ince had and really just underlined how out of his depth the former manager was.

There have not been wholesale changes this time around either.  Gael Givet has come in permanently from Marseille following a loan spell and Hadjuk Split front man Nikola Kalinic has signed up for £6m.  French midfielder Steven N’Zonzi is dubbed the “next Patrick Vieira” (these dubbings never get boring) and Elrio Van Heerden is an established South African international.

Keys to their success: I’m not sure why I rate Blackburn under Allardyce so highly.  I think it may be partly to do with the fact that the rest of the division is decidedly unimpressive and Allardyce himself usually makes the best of meagre resources.  There is no Roque Santa Cruz this year but there wasn’t most of last season either.  Let’s see if Benni McCarthy can keep scoring and Steven Reid and Keith Andrews form a surprisingly effective midfield partnership.

Can ‘Arry find the balance?

You wonder how many seasons Spurs can possibly begin without a left midfielder. There were flirtations with naturally left-sided players like Timothe Atouba and Reto Ziegler but they simply didn’t make the grade. We’ve seen Aaron Lennon, David Bentley and Luka Modric play there without much impact and even Robbie Keane made the odd appearance despite lacking key skills such as pace and crossing ability.

The rumour mill is suggesting that ‘Arry is considering a move for Chelsea’s Joe Cole, a player who has made a reasonable fist of playing in that position for club and country. With a move for Ashley Cole looking unlikely and Stewart Downing joining Cole at Aston Villa, the fear is that once again Tottenham will lack the shape and balance that could undermine their season.

The signing of Peter Crouch and Jermaine Defoe has given Spurs an intriguing front line and a more clearly defined striking pair than last seasons ill-fitting pairing of Ramon Pavlyuchenko and Darren Bent.

A move for Cole would be appealing in that he could fill a free role that would also satisfy the requirement for a central playmaker that I don’t think can be filled by the lightweight Modric. As to whether or not Cole would want to leave a Champions League club is another thing altogether. But with Lampard, Ballack, Essien and Malouda ahead of him in the pecking order he may feel that first team football is unlikely at Stamford Bridge.

A lot is made of Spurs spending but they certainly manage to squeeze every last cent out of a deal. After getting £8m for the willing but limited Didier Zokora, they now look set to pocket about £15m from Sunderland for Darren Bent. Bent is a conundrum in that despite not starting regularly last season or ever fitting in to the Spurs tyle of play, he still ended up as top scorer. I like him and think he’ll do very well at the Stadium of Light if the move goes through.

Rumours suggest that Steve Bruce would also like to bring the unmitigated transfer disaster that is David Bentley to Sunderland too. Despite spending somewhere in the region of £17m on Bentley the indications are that they wil struggle to net £10m for him if he moves on. I don’t think Bruce will have the patience for another long drawn-out transfer drama so perhaps a successful loan deal will revive Bentley’s career and increase his market value in time for next summer.