Welcome to the new season from EB. We hope you are suitably rested and prepared for another 9 months of gruelling pain, despair, struggle and excitement as the lure of warm Chang and cold scouse pies is now tantalisingly within your grasp….
As usual at this time of the year the glass half empty/full perspectives are out in equal measure amongst the fan base. The positive camp will be pleased we have kept the key men who drove us to a storming finish to last season plus the addition of the excellent Steven Naismith. The not so chipper element will point to limited change to the club’s off field woes compounded by the departure of Jack Rodwell this week.
This preview will walk you through the current state of play at L4. We begin by looking at last season’s strengths and weaknesses before looking at what’s changed over the summer before diving head first into predicting the likely line-up, formation and strategy for the new campaign, culminating with an assessment of what we can achieve this season. This will be interspersed by some juicy bets I have come across for the new season…..
1.Last Season’s Strengths……
2.Last Season’s Weaknesses…..
3.What has happened Since May?
Tim Cahill’s departure from the club removes one of the mainstays of the Moyes era. Despite this, his significance to the team on the pitch had reduced with our win percentage 20% greater in the last 2 seasons with him not in the side. Cahill’s bite will be missed; whilst he lost more headers than he won his ability to impact defenders and enable us to win second balls was significant. Jack Rodwell has also moved onto pastures new, ending a fairly uneventful and injury hit career at L4. Whilst Rodwell was a good passer, energetic and capable of driving forward he was held back by a lack of self belief. Given the pretty much untouchable picks of Osman, Fellaini & Gibson coupled with the emergence of Junior in pre season meant Rodwell would have started the season on the bench. A club with a threadbare squad like ours simply couldn’t afford to have a player of that value on the sidelines week in week out.
On a positive transfer note, Naismith brings versatility, goals and craft as well as an ability to win free kicks and generally ‘do a job’ for the team. Deployed at Rangers across all the midfield and forward slots, he has featured on the flanks in pre-season and up top alongside Jelavic who he has a decent understanding with from their time north of the border. Boylesports has the Scot at 6/5 to score more than 5.5 goals which looks a decent wager.
Pienaar we know all about; his contribution during his loan spell highlighted what we missed in the first half of the season; crucially he created more chances per game, set up more goals, won more free kicks and completed more dribbles than anyone else in our squad in less than half a season. You can get the South African at 40/1 to win the top flight’s assist league. The squad is still light in terms of striker support to Jelavic and a forward will arrive (Jordan Rhodes?) before the transfer window closes. A right winger would also be a nice to have although Moyes may again wait for Donovan whose contract at the MLS expires early next year.
4.Likely Line-up & Strategy
Last season’s post new year success (particularly at home) was based on a two phased approach to winning games. Phase 1 would involve aggressive pressing on opponents to make errors with even possession, force opportunities and get in front. Phase 2 involves defending 10 yards deeper, surrendering possession and putting 10 men behind the ball. Defensively it means we are rock solid ; we made the 6th fewest errors leading to a goal (5) and lost the fewest defensive challenges in the league.
It does however inhibit productivity going forward. Does Moyes look to evolve? Whilst I can’t see him sacrificing his defensive solidity we do now have more options going forward with Naismith, Osman and Pienaar offering great support to Jelavic. Improving our attacking tempo and scoring more goals to supplement the defensive solidity will be the key differential in how far up the top haIf of the table we can climb and I can see us lining up something like this…
5. What are the expectations?
For me, we are embroiled in a 5 team mini league with Spurs, Liverpool, Newcastle and Arsenal which will shape our season. With the exception of Newcastle, the other 3 approach the season in a state of transition. Over the park, Rodgers is doing his best to right the wrongs that Dogleash left him however introducing the style he is looking for is not aligned with the players he has inherited. For this reason I’d be confident we can keep them at arms length again. Whilst AVB clearly has more upstairs than Arry he has inherited a side whose foundations and in particular its spine is built on sand. Friedel is a geriatric, King has called it a day, Modric is going and Adebayor isn’t coming back so its perhaps a case of revolution not evolution required there also.
Then you have Arsenal. The Gunners did the double over us last season with two 1-0 wins inspired by their talisman RVP who looks to be on his way out of London. The Dutchman’s goals and assists accounted for 27 points last season – a staggering figure. Filling this void is basically impossible and whilst they will be the toughest nut of the 4 to crack, I feel with the stability we possess, given a good start and a clean bill of health we can be competitive in this mini league.
Points wise, you can get 6/5 with Bet 365 for us to get over 55 points – last season we accrued 56 points
The games against these sides will be decisive and last season’s tally of 6 from 24 will not suffice. Moyes did register back to back wins against Rodgers without conceding as well as chalking up comfortable wins over Pardew and AVB so he will be optimistic he has the tactics required to get the key wins needed in these crucial matches. Boylesport offer us at 22/1 to get 4th spot.