Previews: Chelsea, Everton, Fulham
Premier League Preview 7: Chelsea
Chelsea drew their pre-season preparations to a close yesterday with a penalty shoot-out win over Manchester United in the Community Shield in a fiery encounter at Wembley. The game’s controversial moment came when Michael Ballack blocked off Patrice Evra, who stayed down injured. Chelsea though played on, and scored from the resulting attack and infuriating Sir Alex Ferguson.
Carlo Ancelotti has impressed since his arrival at Stamford Bridge. The 50-year-old has come across as a likeable figure in his press conferences. His determined efforts to pick up the English language with speed and his light-hearted nature make it difficult not to warm to the Italian coach.
The Blues have been relatively quiet with their summer transfer dealings thus far. Their only major signing concerns Yuri Zhirkov and his £18 million fee that makes the 25-year-old the most expensive Russian player in history. Left winger Zhirkov scored on his debut for Chelsea in a friendly against AC Milan.
At the beginning of last season, Chelsea greatly missed the presence of midfield rock Michael Essien when he was sidelined with a cruciate ligament injury. The fit-again midfielder coupled with Zhirkov on the left wing will add quality to an already impressive midfield line up.
19-year-old Daniel Sturridge joined from Manchester City, but the two clubs were unable to settle on a fee for the forward, meaning that his price tag will be chosen by a tribunal. Goalkeeper Ross Turnbull also joined the Blues from Middlesbrough on a free transfer.
Despite not coming up against any of the ‘big four’ until October, Chelsea face trips up to Sunderland and to Fulham the latter of which have proved to be a tough team to beat under Roy Hodgson.
With patience, stability and a solid start, Chelsea will be strong contenders for the title. But surely Ancelotti must be given more time than Scolari, stability is now key, even if the Italian should endure a slow start or a mid-season blip.
In: Daniel Sturridge (Manchester City, fee to be determined by a tribunal), Yuri Zhirkov (CSKA Moscow, £18m), Ross Turnbull (Middlesbrough, free)
Out: Franco Di Santo (Blackburn Rovers, loan), Jimmy Smith (Leyton Orient, free), Ben Sahar (Espanyol, £1m), Frank Nouble (West Ham, nominal), Ryan Bertrand (Reading, loan), Tom Taiwo (Carlisle, loan), Lee Sawyer (Southend, loan)
TSR Writers’ Prediction: 2nd
Premier League Preview 8: Everton
Last season’s FA Cup finalists Everton will be looking to build on a fifth place Premier League finish and continue their steady progress under David Moyes.
They finished just nine points below the top four last season, and without the emergence of Manchester City, who are now being widely tipped to break into the top four, one would surely chose Everton if any team were to break the mould.
Everton sharply rejected bids from Manchester City for defender Joleon Lescott. Lescott must be tempted by the prospect of a move to City, both by a wage increase, and the chance to join a side who arguably have more chance of finishing in the top four. And it is perhaps for this reason that the club have stood firm, not swayed by City’s interest.
Moyes has been allocated a reported £12 million to spend this summer, a small part of which will have been used to fund Manchester City striker JÃƒÂ´’s loan move to Goodison Park. Overall however, Everton have not strengthened their squad this summer. A quality central midfielder is what many Everton fans were hoping to see Moyes bring in.
It has been pointed out however, is that Moyes’ side benefit from a close-knit unit that can prove incredibly hard to break down. A ruptured achilles tendon ruled Yakubu out of Everton’s season in November last year, and his return to action scheduled for this month will provide a boost to the squad.
Moyes is however still without Mikel Arteta, Phil Jagielka and Victor Anichebe. Jagielka will not feature until October at the earliest as he continues to recover from a knee injury.
Goodison Park will ring in the new season with a testing visit from Arsenal next Saturday evening. And fairly tough away fixtures at Man City and Fulham dominate the opening weeks of the season.
Everton can certainly progress further under Moyes but with Manchester City doing everything in their power to break into the top four, it is difficult to see Moyes’ side bettering last season’s impressive finish.
In: JÃƒÂ´ (Manchester City, loan), Anton Peterlin (Ventura County Fusion, signed), Cody Arnoux (Carolina Dynamo, signed)
Out: Lars Jacobsen (Blackburn, free), Nuno Valente (released), Andy van der Meyde (released), John Paul Kissock (released), John Ruddy (Motherwell, loan)
TSR Writers’ Prediction: 6th
Premier League Preview 9: Fulham
Roy Hodgson has worked wonders since his arrival at relegation-threatened Fulham in 2007, propelling the London side away to safety in 2008 and securing an extremely impressive seventh place finish last season.
He received much praise for astute signings such as Mark Schwarzer and Brede Hangeland, and his ability to get the best out of players who had failed to convince elsewhere.
Their one failing under Hodgson is perhaps their ability to score goals. Last season the Cottagers scored only 39 goals from their 38 Premier League games. Bobby Zamora who after being close to a move to Hull City chose to stay on at Craven Cottage, must improve last season’s dismal goal return of just two from 35 appearances.
It is cleat that Hodgson believes that stability is a key part of football; a belief reflected when he fielded the same starting line-up 20 times last season – the most in the league.
And Fulham’s resilience was on display for all to see last year, as they fared well against the top four, beating Arsenal and Manchester United, and forcing draws with Chelsea and Liverpool.
28-year-old centre back Hangeland has been repeatedly linked with a move to north London and Arsenal, and one can’t help but feel that if Fulham were to lose such a key player as the Norwegian having such a small squad, they will find it difficult to equal or improve last season’s league position.
In: Stephen Kelly (Birmingham, free), Bjorn Helge Riise (Lillestrom, undisclosed), Kagiso Dikgacoi (Golden Arrows, undisclosed – subject to work permit approval)
Out: Moritz Volz (released), Julian Gray (released), Troy Brown (Ipswich, free), Olivier Dacourt (Internazionale, end of loan)
TSR Writers’ Prediction: 9th