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Season Preview – Part 1 08/08/2016

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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OK.  Here we go… four today, four more tomorrow.  And so on.  I’m in Paris as you read this, by the way.  Disneyland today, wish me luck.  Anyway… apologies if big signings over the week render what follows nonsense…

ARSENAL

INS: Takuma Asano (Sanfrecce Hiroshima, Undisclosed), Rob Holding (Bolton, Undisclosed), Kelechi Nwakali (Diamond Football Academy, Undisclosed), Granit Xhaka (Borussia Mönchengladbach, Undisclosed)

OUTS: Isaac Hayden (Newcastle United, Undisclosed), Mikel Arteta, Mathieu Flamini, Tomáš Rosický, Dan Crowley (Oxford United, Season Loan), Wojciech Szczęsny (AS Roma, Season Loan), Jan Toral (Granada, Season Loan)

OUR EX-GUNNERS: Tommie Hoban (youth)

THEIR EX-ORNS: Héctor Bellerín

RECENT ENCOUNTERS: Two comprehensive defeats in the Premier League, albeit resulting from very different Watford performances, and a Cup Quarter Final that was by some distance the highlight of the second half of the season.

REPORT ARCHIVE:

Season H A FAC LC OTH
2015-16 0-3 2-1
2001-02 2-4
1999-00 2-3 0-1
1986-87 3-1

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Cech
Bellerín         Koscielny        Mertesacker    Monreal
Xhaka           Ramsey
Iwobi                       Özil                  Sanchez
Giroud

VERDICT: On balance, you’d have to say that Arsenal were the best side we faced last season.  We were brilliant during that game at Vicarage Road;  Arsenal were better, and deserved to win 3-0.  In the return in North London they went one better sealing our only 3+ goal defeats of the campaign.  And yet, and yet… that Cup Quarter Final, whilst a highlight of our season, showed the other side of Arsenal;  limp, gutless.  Arsenal fans find themselves in a quandary:  what to hope for.  Last season was the most Arsenal of seasons for a club which have turned “good, but no cigar” into an art form, the second place finish in what was supposed to be someone else’s neck-and-neck two-horse race a double-edged sword.  Hilarious that they finished above Spurs…  but surely a bitter confirmation that this was a season that they could have, should have?, won the main prize.  So to repeat, what do you hope for…  more seasons under Wenger, a steady diet of good-but-not-quite-good-enough with only the theoretical possibility that the extra strength brought in each season – Xhaka, at least, should provide some backbone – improves the side quicker than the bits that are weakening, the centre of defence as Mertesacker and Koscielny age in this case, diminish it.  Or do you hope for the inevitable chaos that will follow his departure under whoever inherits the poisoned chalice of replacing him, Arsenal’s David Moyes (Dave Bassett?).  Your heart bleeeds.  Third, probably.

AFC BOURNEMOUTH

INS: Jordan Ibe (Liverpool, £15,000,000), Lewis Cook (Leeds United, £7,000,000), Lys Mousset (Le Havre, £5,400,000), Brad Smith (Liverpool, Undisclosed), Emerson Hyndman (Fulham, Compensation), Mikael Ndjoli (Millwall, Free), Mark Travers (Cherry Orchard, Free), Nathan Aké (Chelsea, Season Loan)

OUTS: Matt Ritchie (Newcastle United, £12,000,000), Tommy Elphick (Aston Villa, £3,000,000), Jayden Stockley (Aberdeen, Free), Josh Carmichael, Sylvain Distin, Jon Muleba, Josh Wakefield, Mason Walsh, Stephane Zubar, Matt Butcher (Yeovil Town, Six Month Loan), Harry Cornick (Leyton Orient, Six Month Loan), Glenn Murray (Brighton & Hove Albion, Season Loan), Joe Quigley (Gillingham, Season Loan), Marius Adamonis (Atalanta, End of Loan), Juan Iturbe (Roma, End of Loan)

OUR EX-CHERRIES: Nonee

THEIR EX-ORNS: Nathan Aké

RECENT ENCOUNTERS: A wonky performance at Dean Court which saw one of our worst halves of the season salvaged by a gift from Artur Boruc, and an uninspiring draw at the Vic – the Cherries, fair to say, didn’t see us at our best.

REPORT ARCHIVE:

Season H A FAC LC OTH
2015-16 1-1  1-1
2014-15 1-1
2013-14 6-1 2-0
2003-04 1-0
1997-98 2-1 1-0
1996-97 0-1 2-1
1995-96 1-1

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Boruc
Smith            Francis               S.Cook            Daniels
Aké               Surman
Ibe                            Arter                          King
Wilson

VERDICT: There might come a point where thinking about Bournemouth doesn’t instinctively provoke a gritting of teeth.  After all, a little under 20 years ago Fulham were provoking the same reaction on BSaD (and it seems a long time ago because, you know, it is).  But we’re not at that stage yet…

We finished a place above Bournemouth last season but it wouldn’t be unreasonable for Cherries fans to cite injury to Callum Wilson in particular in mitigation.  Going into the new campaign, Eddie Howe’s additions have lowered the age profile of a fairly experienced squad – Aké, Ibe, Lewis Cook, Mousset and Hyndman all qualify as under-21 players not contributing to the 25-man quota and the Cherries have a higher proportion of British-born players than we do, for example, so won’t struggle on that score.

Where they do appear to be weak at the time of writing (several weeks before you’re reading, such is life… I’m likely to be in Disneyland Paris as you read this, spare me some sympathy) is in defence, where converted full-back Simon Francis and Steve Cook are the only incumbents in the centre as it stands following the departures of Tommy Elphick and Sylvain Distin.  There’s speculation that injury victim Tyrone Mings might return as a centre-back, but when your fallback options is a youngster signed as a full back, however promising, you know where your priorities lie.  If Aké, as anticipated, is used as a holding midfielder the defence that shipped a lot of goals last season will have some protection, but you’d be wanting a few more reliable options.

Bournemouth remain something of a benchmark, and whilst it’s not as simple as “little Bournemouth defying the odds” there’s some pleasure in imagining the more witless elements of the support of Leeds, Wolves, Sheffield Wednesday, not to mention Newcastle and Villa, raging at how Big Clubs are left languishing in the Championship whilst The Likes of Bournemouth dine at the top table.  That lasts as long as it takes for Bournemouth to do something annoying again, naturally, but is more grace than many of our top flight rivals deserve.  Comfortably mid-table, if they sort that defence out.

BURNLEY

INS: Johann Berg Gudmundsson (Charlton Athletic, Undisclosed), Nick Pope (Charlton Athletic, Undisclosed), Jimmy Dunne (Manchester United, Free), Robbie Leitch (Motherwell, Free), James Thomas (Bolton Wanderers, Free), Jon Flanagan (Liverpool, Season Loan)

OUTS: Joey Barton (Rangers, Free), Luke Conlan (Morecambe, Free), Lloyd Dyer (Burton Albion, Free), Matt Gilks (Rangers, Free), Matt Taylor (Northampton Town, Free), Josh Ginnelly (Walsall, Six Month Loan), Danijel Nizic (Morecambe, Free), Michael Duff, Jason Gilchrist

OUR EX-CLARETS: None

THEIR EX-ORNS: Sean Dyche (Manager), Michael Kightly, Tony Loughlan (First Team Coach), Ian Woan (Assistant Manager)

RECENT ENCOUNTERS: Two draws… a 0-0 at Turf Moor in the dying days of Gianfranco Zola’s stewardship and a 1-1 at the Vic as Beppe Sannnino’s side confirmed that promotion would have to wait another year.

REPORT ARCHIVE:

Season H A FAC LC OTH
2013-14 1-1
2012-13 3-3
2011-12 3-2 2-2
2010-11 1-3
2008-09 3-0 0-4
2007-08 1-2
2005-06 3-1 1-4
2004-05 0-1 1-3
2003-04 1-1 3-2
2002-03 2-1 7-4  2-0
2001-02 1-2 0-1
2000-01 0-1 0-2
1997-98 1-0 0-2
1996-97 2-2 1-4

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Heaton
Flanagan            Keane                Mee              Ward
Gudmundsson    Marney             Jones             Arfield
Vokes            Gray

VERDICT: So.  Burnley get promoted.  A victory of the collective over the individual, talented players but very much more than the sum of their parts.  They’ve not splashed on the squad, opting instead for prudence, careful building on what went before all of which overseen by the ginger Mourinho, Sean Dyche.  How much has changed since the faltering, pragmatic and ultimately, improbably, successful start to his management career at Vicarage Road.

Thing is, that season, that promoted-teamwork-prudence season, that was two years ago.  Sean Dyche got the Clarets promoted again, as champions no less, and once again the Burnley approach has been cautious and careful, targets identified from the Championship and custodians haggled with, a reluctance to pay over the odds.  You can understand that.  And perhaps the logic is that as you gradually, carefully build the club gets stronger, guarantees itself income without gambling its future by breaking the format, breaking the wage structure.  Which all falls down if Dyche himself decides that he’s had enough and ups and leaves.  There’s a certain jumpiness on Burnley messageboards;  there’s clearly some talent in the squad – Heaton, Mee and Andre Gray all look excellent players.  But you’d be hard pressed to argue that the current squad is significantly stronger than that which was relegated two years ago, a side that featured the likes of Danny Ings and Kieran Trippier, that won plaudits and respect and went down anyway.  Indeed, at the time of writing the side, stripped of Joey Barton, is probably weaker than the one that got promoted.

Burnley will be popular again.  They will work for each other, they’ll be a team.  They might even be robust to a series of defeats.  But even if the time between now and the end of the window sees them win their scraps with Derby and Villa for Jeff Hendrick and Ashley Westwood respectively, adding to an area where Burnley’s squad is weak in the centre of midfield, you’d have to doubt whether they’ll do any better than last time.

CHELSEA

INS: N’golo Kanté (Leicester City, £32,000,000), Michy Batshuayi (Marseille, Undisclosed)

OUTS: Papy Djilobodji (Sunderland, £8,000,000), Mohamed Salah (AS Roma, Undisclosed), Reece Mitchell (Chesterfield, Free), John Swift (Reading, Free), Marco Amelia, Kevin Wright, Tammy Abraham (Bristol City, Season Loan), Nathan Aké (AFC Bournemouth, Season Loan), Tomas Kalas (Fulham, Season Loan), Alex Kiwomya (Crewe, Six Month Loan), Charly Musonda (Real Betis, Season Loan), Nathan (Vitesse Arnhem, Season Loan), Kasey Palmer (Huddersfield Town, Season Loan), Baba Rahman (Schalke 04, Season Loan), Radamel Falcao (AS Monaco, End of Loan), Alexandre Pato (Corinthians, End of Loan)

OUR EX-BLUES: None

THEIR EX-ORNS: Nathan Aké, Nathaniel Chalobah

RECENT ENCOUNTERS: Two sterling draws against the Blues, despite the fixture list depriving us of the free punch that most seemed to be getting pre-Mourinho’s departure.

REPORT ARCHIVE:

Season H A FAC LC OTH
2015-16  0-0
2014-15 0-3
2009-10 0-5
2008-09 1-3
2003-04 2-2 / 0-4
1999-00 1-0 1-2
1981-82 3-0
1969-70 1-5

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Courtois
Azpilicueta        Zouma         Terry          Kenedy
Willian      Fabregas      Kanté         Hazard
Costa             Batshuayi

VERDICT: In any other season, (insert one of any number of improbable things not quite as improbable as Leicester winning the league) would have been the story.  And this was one of them.  Not since Leeds in 1992/93 have reigning champions flunked so comprehensively; whilst our focus was on the Hornets first, and perhaps the unexpected triumph of Leicester second the reflection that “hey look, we’re still ahead of Chelsea” never failed to get a snigger.  It got to the point where my wife was protesting, “yes, but Chelsea are rubbish”.

Chelsea were the reigning league champions, though.  The anti-Leicester in many respects… much less than the sum of their parts thanks to a complete lack of common purpose.  Mourinho has gone, a respected new coach comes in, but questions remain… what formation will he play?  If it’s a four-man midfield, how do you accommodate Fabregas?  If it’s a five-man midfield (and Conte, like Mazzarri, has a 3-5-2 as his historical modus oprerandi) what do you do with Hazard?  How long can you rely on the likes of Terry, Ivanovic, Fabregas.

There are more reasons to be positive than negative for the blues, however.  Quite apart from the new manager, the signing of N’golo Kanté is a pretty extraordinary one, defying the lack of Champions League football that will surely limit who the Blues are / have been able to attract during this transfer window.  And that lack of Champions League football may prove a blessing; fewer midweek games, fewer trips, fewer distractions.  It may be that, whilst our start looks pretty daunting we’re catching Chelsea, the first visitors to Vicarage Road, cold… at a time when they haven’t quite got going.  Either way, it seems unlikely that this season will be a disaster on a par with the last.

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