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Season Preview 2021 – Part 4 12/08/2021

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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MANCHESTER UNITED

INS: Jadon Sancho (Borussia Dortmund, £73,000,000), Tom Heaton (Aston Villa, Free)

OUTS: Joel Pereira (RKC Waalwijk, Free), Max Taylor (Rochdale, Free), Sergio Romero, Di’Shon Bernard (Hull City, Season Loan), Nathan Bishop (Mansfield Town, Season Loan), Tahith Chong (Birmingham City, Season Loan), Reece Devine (St Johnstone, Season Loan), Facundo Pellistri (Deportivo Alavés, Season Loan), Axel Tuanzebe (Aston Villa, Season Loan)

OUR EX-RED DEVILS: Craig Cathcart, Tom Cleverley, Ashley Fletcher, Ben Foster, Joshua King

THEIR EX-ORNS: Nick Cox (Academy Manager), James Garner, Jadon Sancho

GOOD THINGS: Marcus Rashford.  Alex Ferguson. Travelling support makes a bloody racket.  Eric Cantona’s goal against Sheffield United.

REPORT ARCHIVE:

Season H A FAC LC OTH
2020-21     0-1    
2019-20 2-0        
2018-19 1-2 1-2      
2016-17 3-1        
2015-16 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:

Henderson
Wan-Bissaka      Maguire          Lindelöf                Shaw
McTominay             Pogba
Sancho                         Fernandes                       Rashford
Cavani 

VERDICT: Back in the mid-1980s when men were men, boys were boys and seasons took a lot longer than they do now, Shoot! was a staple part of the weekly diet.  Jimmy Greaves did an agony aunt page of sorts, (“For £300k you want a top class goalkeeper and Tony Coton certainly isn’t that”), there was a “Player Focus” on the back page (“Favourite Actress: Barbra Streisand”), and United skipper Bryan Robson had a weekly column (“the lads are quietly confident that this could be our year”).

We were worldly wise enough to laugh at Robson’s annual misplaced confidence at the time.  Hell, we laugh about it now.  In, say, 1984 United hadn’t won the title in 17 years… and as discussed, years were longer then too.  Nonetheless, a bit weird that United are halfway to that total again.

Indeed, for all that recent trajectory has been kind of upwards to the point where you can almost see a genuine title challenge if you squint really hard, United haven’t won a trophy in the last four seasons – the last time that happened was in the 1980s.  

There’s got to be a decent chance of that run ending this season one way or another.  The signings look sensible at last – Sancho and the mooted Varane and Trippier will all improve the side.  However, supporters’ angry and impressive response to the breakaway threat in which Joel Glazer was reportedly prominent re-emphasises the point that supporting a club is about much more than merely enjoying success on the pitch. 

NEWCASTLE UNITED

INS: None

OUTS: Florian Lejeune (Deportivo Alavés, Undisclosed), Christian Atsu (Al Raed, Free), Ludwig Francillette (Crawley Town, Free), Andy Carroll, Yoshinori Muto, Henri Saivet, Lewis Cass (Port Vale, Season Loan), Jake Turner (Colchester United, Season Loan), Kell Watts (Wigan Athletic, Season Loan)

OUR EX-MAGPIES: Rob Elliot, Dan Gosling, Danny Rose

THEIR EX-ORNS: Kevin Richardson (U18s assistant coach)

GOOD THINGS: The city radiates from St James’ Park, the heart of Newcastle in more way than one.  The legendary, epic ascent to the away end, climbing spikes and all.  The “one pub per supporter” approach to hostelries in Newcastle.  Philippe Albert.

REPORT ARCHIVE:

Season H A FAC LC OTH
2019-20 2-1        
2018-19 1-1 0-1      
2017-18 2-1 3-0      
2015-16 2-1    1-0    
2009-10 1-2        
1999-00 1-1 0-1      

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Dubravka
Krafth         Schär        Fernández     Dummett    Ritchie
Hayden                  Shelvey                 Almirón
   Saint-Maximin      Wilson          

VERDICT: Of all the frustrating circumstances that contributed to our relegation…  injuries, bad decisions, unfortunate defeats…  one of the most neglected and least discussed is Newcastle United.  Any balanced assessment of the last couple of seasons would have had the Magpies as dead certs for relegation for all manner of reasons.  And yet here they are…

The current working hypothesis is that there’s a sort of trap door at the bottom of the Premier League table somewhere to which only Mike Ashley has the key.  The trapdoor leads to a tunnel…  you need to time your movement carefully, perhaps to coincide with an international window or a Super Sunday when everyone’s distracted… but if you get it right you can emerge unnoticed into lower mid-table, a region never covered by the majority of media outlets anyway.  Two weeks later someone says “how the hell did Newcastle get up there” and you look and shrug and tell yourself to pay more attention next season.

Admittedly last season, unlike in 2019/20, part of the escape plan was Joe Willock whose prolific loan spell from Arsenal saw him net in each of the last seven fixtures of the season.  At the time of writing, with United yet to sign a player, he seems top of most shopping lists but personal terms are still being haggled over.

It’d be a cold-hearted bastard not to feel sympathy for United fans.  Even a complete collapse, a calamity, two or three years in the Championship followed by the possibility of a brighter future thereafter, might be deemed preferable to what feels like an annual slog.

Not that sympathetic though.  We can be sympathetic when we’ve stayed up.

NORWICH CITY

INS: Milot Rashica (Werder Bremen, £9,400,000), Ben Gibson (£8,000,000), Dimitris Giannoulis (PAOK,  €7,500,000), Angus Gunn (Southampton, £5,000,000), Pierre Lees-Melou (Nice, £3,500,000), Flynn Clarke (Peterborough United, Undisclosed), Liam Gibbs (Ipswich Town, Undisclosed), Josh Sargent (Werder Bremen, Undisclosed), Billy Gilmour (Chelsea, Season Loan)

OUTS: Emiliano Buendía (Aston Villa, £33,000,000), Alex Tettey (Rosenborg, Free), Louis Thompson (Portsmouth, Free), Mario Vrančić (Stoke City, Free), Moritz Leitner, Marco Stiepermann, Daniel Barden (Livingston, Season Loan), Josip Drmić (HNK Rijeka, Season Loan), Akin Famewo (Charlton Athletic, Season Loan), Josh Martin (MK Dons, Season Loan), Reece McAlear (Inverness Caledonian Thistle, Season Loan), Sam McCallum (Queens Park Rangers, Season Loan), Danel Sinani (Huddersfield Town, Season Loan), Sebastian Soto (Porto, Season Loan), Xavi Quintillà (Villarreal, End of Loan)

OUR EX-CANARIES: None

THEIR EX-ORNS: None

GOOD THINGS: The Waterfront.  “We want Chasey out” in 1996. Beating Bayern.  The steward who took a quid to the Ladbrokes booth in the home end for me at Carrow Road which came in at 50-1. Yellow and green – uniquely Norwich.

REPORT ARCHIVE:

Season H A FAC LC OTH
2020-21 1-0 1-0      
2019-20 2-1 2-0      
2015-16 2-0 2-4      
2014-15 0-3        
2013-14       2-3  
2010-11 2-2 3-2      
2008-09 2-1        
2007-08 1-1 3-1      
2005-06 2-1 3-2      
2003-04 1-2 2-1      
2002-03 2-1 0-4      
2001-02 2-1 1-3      
2000-01 4-1 1-2      
1998-99 1-1 1-1      
1995-96 0-2 2-1      

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Krul
    Aarons           Hanley         Gibson          Giannoulis
McLean          Gilmour
  Rashica               Dowell             Cantwell  
Pukki

VERDICT: Graham Taylor once memorably suggested, in around 2000 or so, that a club like Watford being a yo-yo club for a bit is not necessarily a bad thing.  Loosely, “if you yo-yo and yo-yo and yo-yo then in the end you might just… yo!”.  As the infrastructure builds and the club invests and so on.  There are all sorts of caveats and what-ifs to that of course, but Burnley are an example of a club who appear to have pulled it off.

Quite how much fun it is when you’re in the throes of it with no guarantee of a positive long-term outcome, you’d have to ask a Norwich fan.  City find themselves in a new division for the third summer running having achieved promotion comfortably just as they did two years ago.  Then they started at Anfield and attracted plaudits for their pretty triangles whilst going down 4-1 to a Liverpool side who barely had to break sweat.  Now…  they’re more experienced, they have some big ugly defenders in Grant Hanley and long-time Watford target Ben Gibson and they will hope to avoid the swathe of injuries to centre-backs that stymied them last time.

Nonetheless there are problems.  Principally the loss of Emi Buendía, whose situation wasn’t dissimilar to Will Hughes’ evolving (writing two weeks before the season starts) position at Watford.  But for the pandemic City might have lost Buendía a year ago.  As it was he helped them to promotion but they’ve now lost a key component of the team, and whilst they’ve recruited an heir apparent in Milot Rashica if he hits the ground running and gives them 80% of what Buendía did he’ll have done really well.  That’s far from guaranteed and still leaves them weaker than last year.  Meanwhile  City lack alternatives to Pukki up front and options in defensive midfield; they face Man City, Liverpool and Leicester before the transfer window closes and so will hope to be doing any remaining business quickly.  Whatever the mitigation in terms of strength of opposition, it’s much harder to recruit from the bottom of the table.  A lot depends on the next few weeks, you suspect.

SOUTHAMPTON

INS: Adam Armstrong (Blackburn Rovers, £15,000,000), Dynel Simeu (Chelsea, £1,500,000), Tino Livramento (Chelsea, Undisclosed), Romain Perraud (Brest, Undisclosed), Theo Walcott (Everton, Free), Armando Broja (Chelsea, Season Loan)

OUTS: Angus Gunn (Norwich City, £5,000,000), Wesley Hoedt (Anderlecht, Undisclosed), Danny Ings (Aston Villa, Undisclosed), Alex Jankewitz (Young Boys, Undisclosed), Mario Lemina (Nice, Undisclosed), Callum Slattery (Motherwell, Undisclosed), Ryan Bertrand (Leicester City, Free), Dan Nlundulu (Lincoln City, Free), Thomas O’Connor (Burton Albion, Free), Josh Sims, Kayne Ramsay (Crewe Alexandra, Season Loan), Jake Vokins (Ross County, Season Loan)

OUR EX-SAINTS: None

THEIR EX-ORNS: Carl Martin (First Team/U23 Assistant Coach)

GOOD THINGS: Francis Benali. A production line of good kids.  The win over Manchester United and the invisible kit.  Ralph Hasenhüttl.   The weird angled seating arrangement behind the goal at the Dell.

REPORT ARCHIVE:

Season H A FAC LC OTH
2019-20 1-3        
2018-19 1-1 1-1      
2017-18 2-2 2-0      
2016-17 3-4        
2015-16   0-2      
2011-12 0-3        
2008-09 2-2 3-0      
2007-08 3-2        
2005-06 3-0 3-1      
2004-05       5-2  
2002-03     1-2    
1999-00 3-2 0-2      
1982-83   4-1      
1980-81       7-1  

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

McCarthy
Walker-Peters      Vestergaard        Bednarek          Perraud   
Tella                 Romeu          Ward-Prowse      S.Armstrong
A.Armstrong          Adams    

VERDICT: The problem with following the buy-low-sell-high model, which most clubs try to do to some degree or another and Southampton have done better than most over the years, is the sheer bloody relentlessness of it.  You have some control over when the stars get sold, lengths of contracts and making the place a good place to be until such a time and so on.  But not infinite control.  And the wheels don’t stop turning when it gets inconvenient.

Saints were in a difficult position this summer with Danny Ings forcing a move as he entered the last year of his contract and Jan Vestergaard courting interest after impressing with Denmark in the Euros, most recently from Leicester.  The club seems to do a steady job of replacing players as needed and bringing in replacements but a new “20-a-season” goalscorer is a big ask at the best of times. In the current circumstances with offers, one assumes, reflecting the new reality and a tendency perhaps to prefer to see lucrative contracts out rather than move for comparable or even inferior terms it becomes all but impossible.  Adam Armstrong looked decent in the Championship.  Like Rashica and Buendía at Norwich he’ll need to go some to come close to matching Ings, in which case Saints have broken even.  

Southampton’s ownership situation also seems less than ideal… Chinese-owned but by an individual who wants out but can’t find a buyer doesn’t feel altogether stable.  There are plenty of clubs worse off than Southampton – you’re going to have to work quite hard to get relegated this season on the basis of such messageboard research as I’ve undertaken – but Saints aren’t far enough away that they won’t be sucked in by an unfavourable turn of circumstances.

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