Having reviewed the fact that between blogging, managing fantasy football teams, forum work, an anniversary, a birthday, losing my premium channel on my digital TV thanks to an admin cock-up by my provider and of course the weekend of football ahead - I'm going to have to downsize the Wish-List for the 2009/2010 season. Rather than individual articles, I've included all the remaining topics in one blog post. Lazy, I know. Already looked at Jenas and the hope of an FA Cup run.
Fortress Lane: Relentless and Ruthless
If we go one-nil up I don't want to see us sit back and let the opposition pile it on. I'm sure that's what they would aspire to do and in the past, we've had to watch our lot go on the back foot as we lose the initiative sometimes resulting with textbook consequences (oh look they've equalised). Get hold of the ball and control the tempo. Possession possession possession. When we attack (especially at home) we can be quite irresistible. Sexy swaggering soccer. What happens straight after going one up should be more of the same. Go for the jugular. Kill 'em off. Be relentless and ruthless. Make them fear us. Boss the park. Don't give them time to think. We had problems last year with scoring more than a goal and won plenty with lowly score lines. So more emphasis on the forwards to 'finish' off the chances created for them and we might find ourselves in a far more comfortable position cometh the final 10 minutes of game. We don’t have the excuse of being soft in midfield anymore. And we have talent up front and genius on one side of the field and irresistible pace on the other. We have the weapons. So pull the trigger.
The next Lilywhite prodigy?
John Bostock. He's not been sent out on loan and hopefully he won't. With 7 subs on the bench he needs to be there every so often and nurtured into first team football. He's meant to be good. Very good. Ok, so with them lot down the road blooding Jack Wilshire, you might ask 'our kids can't be that great if they can't get anywhere near the first team'? Wilshire (tragically) does look at complete ease on the ball. Whether he develops or stagnates (Cesc anyone?) is something only time will reveal but it's all relative. He’s good now and good enough to play. But not every week.
Bostock is also not ready for full on first team football. Like I said, on the bench every so often will do. Considering the amount of young kids we've mis-managed and over-rated (Caskey, Jackson, Marney, Yeates) it's best to be patient. Unfazed. Confident. Decent shot on him, obvious skills on the ball and off it. But it's about making sure he is both mentally and physically up to the job. He handled himself well in the Championship so he’s deserving of something in the Prem. It's fine having young 'wonder kids' cameo here and there, showcasing their touch and flair in early rounds of the Carling Cup, but it’s altogether a different thing in the league. I do think he has something more than the boy Delph who Villa plucked from Leeds (who rejected our advancements).
Will be interesting to see the effectiveness he has on a game if given a chance, in comparison to Tom Huddlestone.
However, Bostock is still listed as a second year academy player on the OS squad list. Livermore (currently at Derby on loan) does have a number. So maybe he’s going out on loan or remaining with the academy lads.
Perhaps I’m over-rating the kid.
Defoe the Prolific
Ok, so he scored a very decent goal against Holland. Didn't attempt to hit it first time, waited and hit it beautifully in off the post. Did he mis-control the ball initially? Who cares?JD looks fit, sharp and confident. So expect Harry to stick him on the bench come this Sunday. In all fairness, I'd be surprised if that happened. I know the obvious argument is that Keane is better starting than he is coming on and that JD makes more of an impact as a sub. Things do change. Crouch is back alongside him. Keane is off form. And there’s Pav who looks equally sharp and all smiles. But out of all the options we have, Defoe is the one who is likely to be our main catalyst up front. He has his faults. Struggles with offside. Blows hot and cold across a season. But with the World Cup not too far off I reckon we might see something special from the lad this season. 20+ league goals? I'll take the bet.
Can we have some please? No more of the soft touch that has become a tradition. If it wasn't for our decent home form we would have been in a lot of trouble down at the bottom across various seasons in the past decade. We've struggle badly at times, especially against teams we are expected to beat. Which might be the problem. That casual approach, and expectation from players who think turning up will be enough for us to take the points home. Harry has instilled some spirit so I hope we don’t get bullied and pushed around or show signs of nerves that haunted us at Rovers and Old Trafford towards the back end of last year. I have faith in our home form. Get it right away, and we’ll be just fine.
5-0 wins please
I miss the goal carnivals. Too many games last year ended 1-0 or 2-0 when they should have ended with two or three goals more in our favour, but instead we stood nervously as the opposing team remained in a perpetual state of still being in the game. We are strong at home and simply need to consolidate this. We’ve always managed to turn it on. I guess I’m just being greedy.
Top 6 challenge (no bottom half of the table antics)
You can’t read too much into Villa’s home defeat and Everton’s comical attempt at team work in the thrashing the scum dished out to them. But it proves that teams outside of the top 4 are still susceptible to fragility. The concern is our defence and the fact that Woody and Dawson are out injured, and King can only play one game per week. This leaves Bassong having to adapt to possibly two different players in the heart of our defence. Not ideal, but if we continue in the same vein that saw us climb the table last term, we should be in a comfortable position by the time Woodgate is back. The target is simply – do not lose touch with 5th spot. No point in re-visiting this until the 10th game of the season. But my guess is – this ‘year’ will be much like the last with everyone outside the top 4 beating each other. Which means – find form and you can take a massive advantage over the rest. Proven by Everton and Villa last time out.
Nobody is talking about us finishing 4th or even competing for that position. But we are expected to compete for 6th. So there is pressure, but far more understated. I guess if Liverpool do get the better of us on Sunday, there’s no reason to be despondent unless we roll over for them. It’s the way we apply ourselves that will count more than anything. And the way we do so with each passing game. Last year we got worse after every weekend. Stand up, be tall and be proud. Show us your balls Tottenham. Not literally (that would be obscene).
It’s about time we had a season where we competed.
Huddlestone – Will ‘it’ happen?
How do we plan to play him? Quarterback position? Impact sub? He’s young and maybe we’ve been harsh on him but the fact of the matter is the kid is not the most mobile of players. So his progression and deployment will be down to Harry to figure out. There is no doubting that when we play well, he picks out players beautifully well. But when we are under the cosh, it’s a different story. He can definitely offer us something. How often remains to be seen.
Love-in for Wilson and Luka
The two key players. Lose either or both and we are shagged. Luka is the talisman, the magician dinking and tricking his way across the pitch. Wilson is the guv. The boss. The general. He’s the man who does the dirty work in the centre of the pitch and allows our more creative players to push forward knowing he’s back there waiting, ready to break bones. So what if we do lose either one? Wilson is likely to be suspended at some point in the season. O’Hara can do a job, not in any way one to the standard of Palacios. Boateng is more of a creative outlet. So are we still looking at Sissoko or Scott Brown of Celtic? I hope it’s not the latter. I don’t think there’s any doubting we need another CM. One that could slot into the middle when our Honduran masterclass is up in the stands. Or possibly even play alongside him when we need to have a brick wall across the middle of the park.
There is no replacement for Luka. Unless we sign Ashley Young and have the option of slotting him on the left and Moddle in the middle with Wilson. Next few weeks will be telling.
We can’t go into the season with any readymade excuses. Our prep has been good. We’ve bought players in that we need. We’ve had a quiet pre-season with no over the top expectations. Even our players who have mentioned the top 4 have been ignored and forgiven for talking up our chances.
Let City and the rest carry the hype and expectations on their shoulders.