No, I’ve not left this to the last minute, I’ve spent all summer mulling over the permutations, probabilities and player movements in order to put this season preview together. Despite rumours to the contrary, there is absolutely no way that I’m working on a three day plan to get ready for the new season, no sir, not me, this season I’m going to be organised. I know where I, Latics and the site are going, I’m just not saying until we get there.
Anyway, I’m here to talk football not nonsense and it’s probably logical for us to start with Latics’ chances for the next nine months? As close as we are to the start of the season it’s still difficult to tell. We’ve made a bit of a habit of losing players when it’s too late to replace them and the effects of losing Cattermole so late last year is probably still resonating in some fans’ attitude towards the team right now. We had a soft centre last season and who’s to say that it won’t be the same this?
Certainly not the pundits, who surprisingly for me, overwhelmingly have us to go down, the logic being that we only survived in May because there were three worse teams than us and with Newcastle and, erm, West Brom joining the fray there is only likely to be one this time around. The loss of Bramble might have had some effect, but has it made any difference to the predictions? Has it buggery.
Of course this all ignores a couple of things, not least that Latics didn’t finish 17th last season, in fact they finished a couple of wins away from relegation and in a three way battle with Wolves and Bolton for 14th place. It wasn’t as comfortable as we’d have liked but not as twitchy as some might have you believe. On top of that Latics were a tougher prospect in the second half of the season as McCarthy, Diame and Caldwell’s gob came into their own.
As things stand, it’s hard to argue that the side that finished the season hasn’t been strengthened. Melchiot’s time was at an end, I honestly think that Scharner isn’t a great loss and Bramble’s departure has made way for the arrival of Stam, Alacraz and Gohouri. A practically new back four then, but one potentially containing a Dutch champion and two world cup centre-halves.
Scharner has been replaced with James McArthur who brings a great deal of promise and a whole lot less ego and the fruits of last season, combined with being priced out of a deal for Marcel Moreno, have seen Bobby bring in Mauro Boselli, an Argentinean top scorer and a man that we could only afford after his exclusion from their world cup squad. Something that our manager beeves is only a temporary affair.
So a great deal of uncertainty in how those new players will settle, but on the other hand even more anticipation about how strong the side will be if they do.
The biggest cause for confidence at the moment is that we’ve managed to hold on to the three players that we were most concerned about losing. Manyor Figueroa has done his stint, but all mention of him leaving has died down. Even if Liverpool or Sunderland were to troll up with £7m then word is that we’ve a couple of irons in the fire in the shape of Carlos Salcido and Jose Rangel, again a regular international and a immensely promising youngster, and we could possibly get both for the price. There’s been little mention of Rodallega for a while but I suppose we are still looking at the possibility of one of him or N’Zogbia (I’ll say more on the Transfer request story once I’m out of denial).
Ignoring the fact that Victor Moses is chomping at the bit to take one of these two’s slots in the team. Latics are solidly rumoured to be interested in Humberto Suazo. You know, the bald headed guy that played for Chile, the one who is nicknamed Fatty? More importantly, the one who has scored his fair share of goal both domestically and internationally over the last few years.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that the only thing we have to fear with the loss of these players is uncertainty, it’s never great trying to settle too many players into a side or into the rhythm of the premier league, but quality is quality and all indications are that is what we have brought in. With the added bonus that these are players that Bobby has picked up and will be much more willing, and able, to play his system.
Oooh, the system, do you remember that? Call it 4-5-1, 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3, call it whatever you want, but it’s not 4-4-2. After the world cup, the press interest and the public support for anything other than an England 4-4-2 you might expect fans to be a little more tolerant of plan-(B)obby. You might, but you’d be wrong. I know full well it will be about ten minutes into the first game before I’m considering whether I’d enjoy the game more with ear plugs in.
The thing is, as much as I can sit here and talk formations all night, I don’t think it really matters. You put 11 men on the pitch and they kick the ball to each other. The ball might flow different ways, but sooner or later it ends up in the box. You need the players who can get it in there and the players who know how to get on the end of it (regardless of what their starting position is).
Are we better equipped to do that? Well, hopefully having a proper attacking focal point to our attacks means we will, But not having to shoe horn Scharner into the side means even more. Basically it means that we’ll have Watson, McCarthy or Moses in that hole position. They might not be all as big and energetic as the Austrian, but they’re streets ahead in terms of imagination and ability. If you want to unlock defences then you need spades of both.
Ultimately though, your view on the season ahead will depend on your memories of last season. If like me, you remember a few bad games surrounded by fine margins where a side with more confidence or experience would have come through on top then you’ll be looking forward to 38 games where Bobby and the boys will get the chance to settle a few misconceptions. If you think anything else then I suggest you have a minute and maybe take some advice from Jimmy over at Mudhutter.
Either way, you can trust me, it will be interesting, so sit back and enjoy.
* yes I know that’s just about the only positive line in the song, but it works for what’s to come. And I’m even more aware what the next line, but I can assure that I’m not. Well not right now.
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