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Season Preview 2018 – Part 3 08/08/2018

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.


INS: Jean Michaël Seri (Nice, £25,000,000), Alfie Mawson (Swansea City, £15,000,000), Maxime le Marchand (Nice, £5,000,000), Fabri (Beşiktaş, Undisclosed), Aleksandar Mitrović (Newcastle United, Undisclosed), Calum Chambers (Arsenal, Season Loan), André Schürrle (Borussia Dortmund, Two Year Loan)

OUTS: David Button (Brighton, Undisclosed), Joe Felix (Queens Park Rangers, Free), Ryan Fredericks (West Ham United, Free), Dan Martin (Leeds United, Free), Djed Spence (Middlesbrough, Free), George Williams (Forest Green Rovers, Free), Michael Elstone, Julian Schwarzer, Tomas Kalas (Chelsea, End of Loan), Oliver Norwood (Brighton, End of Loan), Sheyi Ojo (Liverpool, End of Loan), Lucas Piazon (Chelsea, End of Loan), Matt Targett (Southampton, End of Loan), Tayo Edun (Ipswich Town, Season Loan), Steven Humphrys (Scunthorpe United, Season Loan), Marek Rodak (Rotherham United, Season Loan)


THEIR EX-ORNS: Marco Cesarini (Head of Medical), Alberto Escobar (First Team Coach), Slaviša Jokanović (Head Coach), Javier Pereira (Assistant Head Coach)

RECENT ENCOUNTERS: Slav’s Hornets finding a way to win at Vicarage Road despite not playing well, and finding a way to win comprehensively at Craven Cottage after four defeats on the hop.


2014-15 1-0
2004-05 1-1 / 0-2
2000-01 1-3 0-5
1997-98 2-0 2-1 0-1


Christie            Mawson               Ream         Le Marchand
Seri                Cairney
Schürrle                  Mitrović               Sessegnon

VERDICT: Of all the head coaches to pass through Vicarage Road since 2012, Slav is the one that kinda fits the narrative.  The narrative that bangs on about Watford’s hire-and-fire approach to head coaches, the “how the hell have they done so well on it” narrative.  For all his surliness, Slav’s Watford played exuberant and effective football;  his departure was unexpected.  He’s the one.

For this reason if for no other it was great to see Fulham return to the Premier League at the expense of Villa’s band of tough old walnuts.  You kinda feel he deserves a shot at it having now earned one twice.  His hand isn’t the most favourable;  play-off winners notoriously have less time than anyone else to Get It Sorted, a problem accentuated by the World Cup that distracted everyone for a few weeks.  There have been some eye-catching signings, not least that of the coveted Jean Michaël Seri, but you do wonder whether these aggressive signings, which must have had salaries as well as transfer fees behind them to beat off competition, smacked a little of desperation.  Fulham aren’t short of quality – Sessegnon and Cairney two jewels – but they are desperately short of bodies at the time of writing having seen a squad shorne of a number of prominent loan figures also lose the out of contract Ryan Fredericks, a big loss.  It won’t take much of an injury crisis to capsize Fulham as it stands, and the number of key men make them hugely vulnerable to this.

Added to which is the nagging suspicion that part of the reason for Jokanovic’s departure, haggling or otherwise over new contracts aside, was a question mark over how open his teams are, and whether he’s capable of altering his approach successfully.  This, certainly, will be tested in the Premier League.

Fulham have spent heavily with a clear determination to stay up.  There are lots of ways it could go wrong, though. Anywhere in the bottom half.


INS: Florent Hadergjonaj (Ingolstadt, £4,400,000), Juninho Bacuna (Groningen, Undisclosed), Adama Diakhaby (Monaco, Undisclosed), Erik Durm (Borussia Dortmund, Undisclosed), Terence Kongolo (Monaco, Undisclosed), Ramadan Sobhi (Stoke City, Undisclosed), Ben Hamer (Leicester City, Free)

OUTS: Tom Ince  (Stoke City, £10,000,000), Jordy Hiwula (Coventry City, Undisclosed), Tareiq Holmes-Dennis (Bristol Rovers, Undisclosed), Jack Boyle (Clyde, Free), Dylan Cogill (Clyde, Free), Robert Green (Chelsea, Free), Denilson Carvalho, Dean Whitehead, Regan Booty (Aldershot Town, Season Loan), Jack Payne (Bradford City, Season Loan)


THEIR EX-ORNS: Leigh Bromby (U18 manager), Jonathan Hogg, Julian Winter (CEO)

RECENT ENCOUNTERS: A miserable home defeat that saw the end of our back three amidst creatively catastrophic defending, and a slightly less soul-destroying, intense defeat in West Yorkshire that nonetheless amounted to the same thing.


2017-18 1-4 0-1
2014-15 4-2
2013-14 1-4
2012-13 4-0 3-2
2000-01 1-2 2-1
1998-99 1-1 0-2


Zanka         Schindler          Kongolo
Hadegjonaj              Hogg          Mooy                   Durm
Pritchard                             van la Parra

VERDICT: The fundamental thing here I think is the difference between saying “come on lads, we can do this, we can show them” and saying “come on lads, we can do this, we can show them again“.  Second season syndrome likely to be a considerable factor.

Which isn’t to say that a bit of bloody-mindedness was all there was to last season’s success; Town have a good squad, particularly in defensive positions, and seem to have recruited well.  Erik Durm is a great signing if they can keep him fit, and Town might be less crippled by a long-term injury to Christopher Schindler or Aaron Mooy, say, than they would have been last season.

Nonetheless, it’s far from beyond the realms of possibility that Town will struggle again.  For all the resilience, the creation and conversion of chances remains a major problem that summer recruitment doesn’t seem to have addressed.  New contract or not, David Wagner remains an attractive proposition for any mid-sized Prem club in need of a boost and with a big wedge of cash.  With Hoggy in midfield they’ll always have a fighting chance and you’d kind of root for them in anything other than a them-or-us situation…  can’t see Huddersfield sinking without trace but it might be a tight squeeze once again.  Eighteenth.


INS: James Maddison (Norwich City, £22,000,000), Danny Ward (Liverpool, £12,500,000), Rachid Ghezzal (AS Monaco, £10,000,000), Johnny Evans (West Brom, £3,500,000), Ricardo Pereira (Porto, Undisclosed), Ryan Loft (Tottenham Hotspur, Free)

OUTS: Riyad Mahrez (Manchester City, £60,000,000), Ahmed Musa (Al Nasr, Undisclosed), Connor Wood (Bradford City, Undisclosed), Josh Debayo (Cheltenham Town, Free), Ben Hamer (Huddersfield Town, Free), Dylan Watts (Shamrock Rovers, Free), Robert Huth, Sammie McLeod, Cameron Yates, Harvey Barnes (West Bromwich Albion, Season Loan), Daniel Iversen (Oldham Athletic, Season Loan)



RECENT ENCOUNTERS: Coming from behind in miserable conditions to seal our first win in seven on Boxing Day, and Silva’s last stand in the wake of a month without another victory.


2017-18 2-1 0-2
2016-17 2-1 0-3
2015-16 0-1 1-2
2013-14 0-3 2-2
2012-13 2-1 2-1 3-1 / 0-1
2011-12 3-2 0-2
2010-11 3-2 2-4
2009-10 3-3
2005-06 1-2 2-2
2004-05 2-2 1-0
2002-03 1-2 0-2
1999-00 1-1 0-1
1995-96 0-1


Ricardo          Maguire            Evans             Chilwell
Silva                 Ndidi
Ghezzal                       Maddison                  Albrighton

VERDICT: It’s difficult to deviate from the recurring theme over the last few seasons really.  If you’re Leicester… not so much “where do you go after winning the League?”, since we’d all like that problem, but more how do you cope with it.  Two seasons on…  Leicester are doing just fine thanks, grumbles about Claude Puel’s possession-based game aside.  Of the side above “only” Schmeichel, Albrighton and Vardy were in the title-winning team;  what they’ve managed to do is to accommodate losing the likes of Kanté and Drinkwater (who lest we forget was a vital cog of that side) and to find themselves a new niche. Not for many years, not since Martin O’Neill had City been the solid mid-table side that they now are.  A side capable of attracting the likes of Maddison and Ricardo, of Harry Maguire a year ago.

The loss of Mahrez is the biggy of course, the elephant in the room.  Perhaps it’s a bit previous to say that City have “accommodated” the loss of their most creative player.  But it’s a sign of the level of achievement that you can look at the squad despite the loss of Mahrez and say “they’ll be absolutely fine”, which they surely will.  Somewhere between seventh and twelfth.


INS: Alisson Becker (Roma, £67,000,000), Naby Keita (RB Leipzig, £53,000,000), Fabinho (Monaco, £39,000,000), Xherdan Shaqiri (Stoke City, £13,500,000), Isaac Christie-Davis (Chelsea, Free)

OUTS: Danny Ward (Leicester City, £12,500,000), Paulo Alves (Wolves, Free), Emre Can (Juventus, Free), Yan Dhanda (Swansea City, Free), Andy Firth (Barrow, Free), Jon Flanagan (Rangers, Free), Toni Gomes (Arouca, Free), Jordan Williams (Rochdale, Free), Mich’el Parker, Allan (Eintracht Frankfurt, Season Loan), Ovie Ejaria (Rangers, Season Loan), Ryan Kent (Rangers, Season Loan), Harry Wilson (Derby County, Season Loan), Ben Woodburn (Sheffield United, Season Loan), Herbie Kane (Doncaster Rovers, Six Month Loan)

OUR EX-REDS: Jerome Sinclair

THEIR EX-ORNS: Alex Inglethorpe (Academy Director)

RECENT ENCOUNTERS: A, um, typically cagey opening day bunfight that ended 3-3, and an absolute flaying at Anfield at the hands (feet) of Mo Salah.


2017-18 3-3
2016-17 0-1
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


Clyne         Van Dijk       Lovren    Robertson
Henderson              Fabinho
Mané                  Keita                   Salah

VERDICT: Very odd to note that Liverpool “only” finished fourth last season.  Says a lot that I didn’t remember I suppose, evidence of the degree to which it was Manchester City and the rest.  The Reds were a full 25 points behind despite that forward line, despite being relatively unhindered by injuries and despite the dramatic impact of Virgil Van Dijk’s January arrival.

This was another side that seemed to perform at the peak of its powers and of which you therefore have to ask whether it’s reasonable to expect the same heights again.  Whether Mo Salah can be quite as irrepressible, whether they can get the same breaks with injuries (Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s injury suggests not).  Except…  they’ve done a relatively unfashionable thing and gone out and spent shedloads on defensive players.  Even Manchester City have baulked at this, instead spending money on full backs who think they’re wingers and a goalkeeper who plays like a sweeper.  Liverpool have spent proper money on a proper goalkeeper and two deep sitting midfielders, on top of that Van Dijk signing last January.

It feels rather desperate, but it seems inconceivable that it won’t be effective given the quality of the signings.  Suddenly a clear likeliest challenger has emerged from the pack and even if you can’t see them giving City a proper chasing, if there are still areas with thinner cover despite the deepening of the squad and if you’d be slightly worried about the erratic Lovren alongside Van Dijk, this is a yet more formidable looking side.  A clear second.



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