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Season Preview – Part 3 10/08/2016

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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LIVERPOOL

INS: Saido Mané (Southampton, £30,000,000), Marko Grujic (Red Star Belgrade, £5,100,000), Loris Karius (Mainz 05, £4,700,000), Ragnar Klavan (Augsburg, Undisclosed), Georgino Wijnaldum (Newcastle United, Undisclosed), Alex Manninger (Augsburg, Free), Joel Matip (Schalke 04, Free)

OUTS: Jordan Ibe (Bournemouth, £15,000,000), Joe Allen (Stoke City, £13,000,000), Jerome Sinclair (Watford, £4,000,000), Sergi Canas (Norwich City, £2,500,000), Martin Skrtel (Fenerbahce, Undisclosed), Brad Smith (AFC Bournemouth, Undisclosed)Lawrence Vigouroux (Swindon Town, Undisclosed), Dan Cleary (Birmingham City, Free), Jordan Rossiter (Rangers, Free), Joao Teixeira (Porto, Free), Kolo Touré (Celtic, Free), Tom Brewitt, José Enrique, William Marsh, Ryan McLaughlin, Alex O’Hanlon, Kristof Polgar, Jose Sanchez Diaz, Samed Yasil, Adam Bogdan (Wigan Athletic, Season Loan), Jack Dunn (Morecambe, Six Month Loan), Jon Flanagan (Burnley, Season Loan), Ryan Fulton (Chesterfield, Season Loan), Ryan Kent (Barnsley, Season Loan), Allan Rodrigues (Hertha BSC, Season Loan), Steven Caulker (Queens Park Rangers, End of Loan)

OUR EX-REDS: Harry Kewell, Jerome Sinclair

THEIR EX-ORNS: None

RECENT ENCOUNTERS: A stonking 3-0 triumph in December, and an altogether less impressive 2-0 reverse against a weakened Reds as the season drew to a close.

REPORT ARCHIVE:

Season H A FAC LC OTH
2015-16 3-0
2004-05 0-1 / 0-1
1999-00 2-3 1-0
1984-85 3-4
1969-70 1-0
1966-67 1-3

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Karius
Clyne         Matip       Lovren    Moreno
Can              Wijnaldum
Mané                      Firmino               Coutinho
Sturridge

VERDICT: There’s a lot of change afoot this season. More money, yes, yer terms of reference – in as much as you had any – blown out of the water in terms of What A Player Is Worth. We signed Jerome Sinclair from the reds for four million. Four million. For a largely untested kid. How many players had we spent money like that on before this summer? Very few. Before last summer? None. Clubs, too. United, City, Chelsea all bringing in big names at the top to Sort Things Aht. A rehash and relaunch of the soap opera cast – Jose and Pep don’t get on you know – with Arsene Wenger as Pauline Fowler.

In which context, Liverpool are ahead of the game. They did their transition, their Getting Things Sorted early last season which gave the affable, likeable Klopp a relatively gentle introduction, everyone who was anyone acknowledging that he would need a full pre-season to reshape the squad and get the fitness levels up to where they need to be to impose his fabled pressing game. There’s a downside, of course, in that the pressure is now on = if this is Liverpool’s best chance since the last time, it’s also a bit of a blow if it doesn’t come off. Added to which… I’d be a little concerned about the proportion of signings that are taken from Klopp’s sphere of reference, the Bundesliga. Sure, he knows them and perhaps its testament to him that they want to play for him but, you know…

It does look good for the Reds though, for the first time in a while. Klopp doesn’t come across as the kind of guy who will do the classic Liverpool thing of underestimating more moderate opponents – December notwithstanding – and the Anfield crowd will get behind the furious bloody-mindedness that is suggested by his Dortmund team’s reputation. Serious challengers.

MANCHESTER CITY

INS: Leroy Sané (Schalke 04, £37,000,000), Gabriel Jesus (Palmeiras, £27,000,000), İlkay Gündoğan (Borussia Dortmund, £21,000,000), Nolito (Celta Vigo, £13,800,000), Aaron Mooy (Melbourne City, Undisclosed), Oleksandr Zinchenko (Ufa, Undisclosed)

OUTS: Charlie Albinson, Martin Demichelis, Nathaniel Oseni, Sam Tattum, Richard Wright, Jack Byrne (Blackburn Rovers, Season Loan), Aaron Mooy (Huddersfield Town, Season Loan)

OUR EX-SKY BLUES: Costel Pantilimon

THEIR EX-ORNS: None

RECENT ENCOUNTERS: A tame submission in Manchester in August, and a far less tame defeat at the turn of the year in which City managed to dig out a couple of goals to win the game.  I thought they’d win the league at that point…

REPORT ARCHIVE:

Season H A FAC LC OTH
2015-16 1-2 0-2
2001-02 1-2 0-3
1996-97 1-3

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Hart
Sagna        Kompany          Otamendi        Clichy
Fernandinho
Silva                           de Bruyne                  Gündoğan
Agüero              Sané

VERDICT: Almost as perverse as the fact that Leicester won the League last season was the fact that City didn’t.  Midway through the campaign with Chelsea languishing, United flattering to deceive, City were three points off the top.  At that stage they were surely champions elect… they knew how to win titles and yes, there were injuries and no, that defence wasn’t all that you’d hope and expect from a top side, but look at the squad.  Look at the cover.  You even had Iheanacho bursting onto the scene and looking pretty terrifying.  And then, and then…  it was announced, leaked, whatever, that Pellegrino would go and Guardiola would come in, and it doesn’t matter who you are, how big the club, how good the resources.  When a management change is announced early, GT in 2001, Ferguson’s false start whenever that was, certainly Pellegrino, the team takes its foot off the gas.  Unforgivable.  They finished fourth, for pity’s sake.

As for Guardiola, I’d question whether many managerial appointments in English football history have had quite such a fanfare, quite the level of expectation.  There have been tremendously successful managers, sure, but Ferguson, Wenger, Shankly, Paisley became legends because of what they achieved.  They didn’t have the same cult status before they were appointed.  What City have going for them, his coaching credentials aside, is that he was in position at Bayern that was at least loosely comparable, coming into a huge pressure situation with ludicrous expectations and a veneer of invincibility. He’s done it before, and whether or not you share the belief that not winning the Champions’ League in Bavaria constitutes failure he was at least manifestly able to handle the pressure.  Counting against him, the knowledge that in a hugely competitive league every little slip will be microscopically examined, every defeat greeted with a degree of paranoia.  There are clubs guiltier of such reactions in adversity than City… but a number of clubs find themselves on a knife-edge this summer and could go either way.  You’d fancy City to be closer to the top of the pile this time though, “transition” or otherwise.

MANCHESTER UNITED

INS: Eric Bailly (Villarreal, £30,000,000), Henrik Mkhitaryan (Borussia Dortmund, Undisclosed), Zlatan Ibrahimović (Paris Saint-Germain, Free)

OUTS: Tyler Reid (Swansea City, Undisclosed), Joe Rothwell (Oxford United, Undisclosed), Jimmy Dunne (Manchester United, Free), Ashley Fletcher (West Ham United, Free), Nick Powell (Wigan Athletic, Free), Victor Valdes (Middlesbrough, Free), George Dorrington, Oliver Rathbone, Guillermo Varela (Eintracht Frankfurt, Season Loan)

OUR EX-RED DEVILS: Craig Cathcart

THEIR EX-ORNS: Ashley Young

RECENT ENCOUNTERS: Two narrow defeats, on a bitingly cold day at Vicarage Road and after a spirited but unrewarded midweek trip to Old Trafford.

REPORT ARCHIVE:

Season H A FAC LC OTH
20015-16 1-2  0-1
2006-07 1-2
2001-02 0-3
1999-00 2-3 1-4
1984-85 5-1
1978-79 2-1
1968-69 0-2

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

De Gea
Valencia      Smalling        Bailly              Shaw
Schneiderlin   Herrera
Mkhitaryan               Rooney                      Martial
Ibrahimovic

VERDICT: I used to hate United.  A real, visceral, from-the-gut-thing twenty or twenty-five years ago with the focused conviction of youth.  Now I’m older and more mature, naturally I hate everybody.  No special exceptions for United.

I think my changing habits and lifestyle must contribute.  As a student you spend time in pubs watching football and you get to, you know, meet or at least witness actual United fans.  Not just United fans, but the sort of United fan who stands out in a pub as his club which might perhaps have had an issue about how important it believed itself to be in any case won its first title in 25 years (or whatever).  Now…  I know United fans, some of them are idiots but you accommodate the idiots that you are frequently exposed to and I don’t often watch football in pubs of strangers any more.  Only in preparation for writing this piece, reading United blogs and reports disparagingly sneering at the Europa League as somehow beneath them and To Be A Thing Of The Past when their rightful status is restored.  Safe to assume that Viserys Targaryan would have been a United fan.

Enter Jose Mourinho.  I always fancied that he would have been the ideal replacement for Ferguson in the first place… arrogant enough to perhaps carry that mantle and, if not, to explode quickly and absolutely allowing someone more long-term to step in, clear of the mantle of being The Replacement.  Now?  Well… you can see it going either way.  More so than City, even.  The single-mindedness, the siege mentality that Mourinho instills suits United, but the fact that he has been the club’s adversary for so long will count against him very quickly if things don’t go well.  The quality of players coming in his high but defensively the side looks weak, weaker than some of the other likely challengers.  Nor is it clear how it will all fit together… Di Maria, two years ago, looked a spectacular signing too.  Mourinho won’t make them any more likeable.  It won’t be dull, either.

MIDDLESBROUGH

INS: Maarten de Roon (Atalanta, £12,000,000), Viktor Fischer (Ajax, £4,000,000), Antonio Barragán (Valencia, Undisclosed), Bernardo Espinosa (Sporting Gijon, Free), Brad Guzan (Aston Villa, Free), Gastón Ramírez (Southampton, Free), Victor Valdes (Manchester United, Free), Alvaro Negredo (Valencia, Season Loan)

OUTS: Jordan Jones (Rangers, Free), Rhys Williams (Perth Glory, Free), Damia Abella, Jonathan Woodgate, Connor Ripley (Oldham Athletic, Season Loan), Michael Agazzi (Milan, End of Loan), Ritchie de Laet (Leicester City, End of Loan), Tomáš Kalas (Chelsea, End of Loan), Gastón Ramírez (Southampton, End of Loan), Kike Sola (Athletic Bilbao, End of Loan)

OUR EX-BORO: None

THEIR EX-ORNS: None

RECENT ENCOUNTERS: A hard-fought draw at the Riverside and a pivotal victory at the Vic during our promotion season.

REPORT ARCHIVE:

Season H A FAC LC OTH
2014-15 2-0  1-1
2013-14 1-0
2012-13 1-2  2-1
2011-12 2-1
2010-11 3-1
1999-00 1-3 1-1  0-1

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Valdes
Barragán         Ayala        Espinosa          Friend
Clayton       de Roon
    Adomah         Ramírez               Fischer
Negredo

VERDICT: Seems a long time ago that we were chasing down promotion.  I was in Brighton last week (as I write this) which brought back that dramatic end of season and the dramatic penultimate weekend in which our top two position was confirmed.  It was hugely powerful stuff… and of an extraordinarily high standard, I don’t remember a second tier being as strong.  Middlesbrough were one of (at least) four very potent sides, the one that missed out, so it’s impossible to begrudge them promotion at the next opportunity;  having done so, little surprise that the seemingly volatile but popular Karanka has called in a few Spanish names to strengthen the squad.  There’s a common thread in Valdes and Negredo, two experienced heads whose careers in England to date haven’t gone terribly well.  Ramírez, too, was far from an unqualified success at Southampton.  So if these players have something to prove and Karanka can harness them into his side Boro could do OK.  If not… you fancy there’s a fair amount of quality here, they should at least steer clear of the drop.

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