Saturday, August 04, 2007

Rotterdam review and season preview

Rotterdam review

Our pre-season finished with the port of Rotterdam tournament over the weekend. First of all we played Shanghai Shenhua which we won 2-0. Fernando Torres scored his first for the club with a well taken chip over the keeper when one on one with him. Yossi provided a lovely through ball in the build up. I'm happy to see him score his first goal and enjoyed the manner in which he scored it. Not since Michael Owen have we had a striker who was both quick and good at one-on-ones. Gerrard scored the second goal with an audacious lob. Fine goal from the captain. Leto also got his first run out in this match and played quite well by all accounts. It'll be good to have some competition on the left wing this season.

Our final pre-season game was against Feyenoord on Sunday night. This ended up being a bit tasty and was feistier than our previous friendlies. Drenthe opened the scoring for the Dutch team. Then Kuyt had a legitimate goal disallowed before Gerrard scored again after fine work by Babel. Pepe had to save a penalty after an Arbeloa handball. There were a few handbags thrown at the end of the match. Nice to see the chief put a reducer in on Drenthe. So the match finished 1-1 and Porto won the tournament. Big swing.

The Champions League draw was made on Friday and we were drawn against Toulouse who finished third in France. I reckon that we should be able to win that handy enough over two legs. I don't know a huge amount about them other than the fact Elmander plays for them and they only just scraped into third place.

Gerrard stated his happiness at having more time in the centre this season, according to Rafa. I think that this is a bit of a media hobby horse and I've no problem with him playing on the right hand side of midfield and I would imagine that we'll still see him play there a lot this season.

Season preview

Every August, I convince myself that this year will be the one where we finally win the league. Where do I start? Where did we finish - third. Where will we finish? Hard to answer. Many experts seem to think it'll be as you were at the top with the same top four as last season. The guardian have us down for third spot. On the other hand, Henry Winter thinks that we'll finish in the top two and that it'll be the three horse race. I would be happy with that as long as we are involved in the title race at the business end of the season. I suspect that Chelsea and Utd are still slightly ahead of us squadwise, but if we could split them and contend the league I'd be impressed.

The defence required the least work and so it was. With the possible addition of Heinze, it's as you were. We performed well defensively last year so there was no need for drastic surgery. Riise is still a weak link sometimes but Heinze might challenge him to improve. There is some speculation that Carson might be on his way out, maybe to Man City or Villa on loan, to be replaced with Charles Itandje from Lens coming in as back up keeper.

In midfield we have improved the flanks which needed a lot of work. Babel, Leto, Benayoun were bought to add to Kewell, who is now back from injury, and an improved Pennant who looked quality after Christmas. I think that this was the one major area of the team that needed addressing. I'm much more confident of our ability to break down stubborn defences with penetration from the wings this year. Lucas came in to challenge the status quo in the middle. The only problem there is that we have too many good players chaasing too few spaces now.

Our attack has evolved. Out went Bellamy and Fowler for Torres and Veronin. As mentioned above, I think that Torres pace and verve will greatly enhance our attack. Veronin looks a clever player in pre-season and I now think that he'll challenge Dirk and Crouchie, rather than just making up the numbers.

Improvements have been made to many areas of the squad by buying some new talent and shipping those who weren't performing and were out of favour. The remaining issues and questions are

1) We've added to the attacking options and quality in the squad but is it enough? Will we score enough goals? We scored a lot less than the rest of the big four. There were many games where we dominated teams and had the majority of possession but we didn't create enough chances and didn't score enough of the chances that we created. We will have to commit more men forward when we are putting pressure on teams to make this work. The additions of Torres should help somewhat with the goalscoring but we need goals from all over the pitch. Our midfield will have to up it's scoring rate as only Gerrard has a proven history of scoring. I would expect Babel, Alonso, Kewell and Benayoun to chip in with a few each. Pennant only scored once last year and could do with working on that part of his game.

2) Can we perform in the head to heads against our rivals? We had the worst record of the top four teams last season. We were mugged in the last minute by Utd. I'm hoping that we can improve on it this season and get some impressive results against the other big teams.

3) Can we improve our away from? Last season Utd scored one more point than us at home, 47 to our 46 points. The difference came on the road. Utd took 42 points compared to our 22. This is where we need to get our act together. I reckon that our new additions will help us to break down packed defences plus the added pace or Torres and Babel will help us to hit teams on the break.

4) Can we start the season brightly? We had a terrible start last season and were realisticly out of the title race by November. We can't let that happen again. We will have a game in hand by week three due to the champions league qualifiers when we play Chelsea. This will give us a chance to state our credentials with an early blow. The fact that Terry and others could be out is a bonus. We need to establish our credentials early as a statement on intent.

So can we win it? Yes. Will we win it? Probably not. I expect us to challenge but in the end I think that Utd will probably win the prize. I hope that I'm wrong and we call in number 19. It all starts against Villa on Saturday. If we win it, people will be saying "it's on". If not then we'll be written off. Check back here every week for updates. Click here for an good article on rotation from Paul Tomkins.

Bring it on.

No comments: