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Pre-season briefing: Rivals


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No, I haven’t come over all Jilly Cooper, I just thought it was time to have a look at those teams that we’ll find ourselves doing battle with over the next nine months.

(Also Bicks refused to wear the jodhpurs for the photoshoot.)

Our rivals for this season

Everton – Everton are a fine club and they’ve been a fixture in the top six for more than a few years now.

Like us they’re in good hands at pitch side, David Moyes is an excellent manager who has built a team in his own image, feisty, determined and more than capable of beating anyone on their day.

We’ve got an advantage in the boardroom, as Everton always seem to be on their uppers, with Everton board meetings often featuring the board stuffing tenners into a ceramic chicken under the watchful eye of Ma Kenwright. (Probably.)

Like us, they’ve a fairly settled squad and some good youngsters coming through, although they might have trouble at the back with Lescott potentially unhappy and Jagielka still injured. Arteta will be back in midfield alongside the combative (and by combative I mean filthy) Cahill, the angular (and by angular I also mean filthy) and awkward (filthy) Fellaini and livewires Osman and Pienaar. Yakubu will be relied upon for goals.

Games between them and us have been thrilling affairs in the last couple of seasons, we’re well matched and we both want to score goals and I’m looking forward to us renewing one of the better rivalries in this league.

We’ll not be too far apart at seasons end I think, but in a world where money talks, I wonder if the Scousers it’s okay to like will be able to maintain their position.

Tottenham - I’m not sure how or when it happened, but somewhere in the last couple of seasons there seems to have been a change in the way Villa and Spurs interact. There’s a bit of spite brewing between the two teams.

Now, much of this may be down to their manager, a man as handsome as he is loveable. He’s already given us two fingers, then moaned about it in the press, attempted to unsettle Ashley Young and called us names with his mates at the newspapers; sadly we’ve sunk to his level with the coin-throwing incident and I would sincerely hope there’ll be no repeat of that sort of nonsense this season. However I think it’s fair to say that Harry isn’t the most popular in these parts.

On the pitch I think Spurs have underperformed in the last two seasons. For a short time it looked like they might even under perform their way right out of the division, but in fairness to Mr Redknapp he’s got them playing some decent stuff.

Traditionally (or at least recently) Spurs look terrific on paper but never quite get it together and that’s certainly been the case in the Premiership in recent times. Sadly I’m not sure I believe in Karma so I suspect their luck may be about to change. I think they’ll be in there battling with us all season long.

They’ve a good squad with talented players like Keane, Defoe, Crouch, Modric and Lennon, and they’ll be a handful on their day, but like Everton and ourselves they look like they might have trouble at the back. In Tottenham’s case, they seem to have amassed a group of talented centre halves fashioned entirely from glass and lollipop sticks and held together with toothpaste and bogeys. Woodgate and King look likely to miss the opening of the season.

I think we’ve enough to hold them off over the course of the season, but I think they’ll add a bit of substance to their boasts this term. In a world where there’s more to the game than money, it’ll be a question of whether there’s any character behind the glitz.

They wish…..

Fulham – Fellow Europa league hopefuls Fulham will be trying to maintain their challenge this season after what was the best season in their history last time out. Roy Hodgson is a very astute man and has fashioned a very good side in West London. However, for every Hangeland there’s an Aaron Hughes, for every Johnson there’s a Zamora and for every Danny Murphy there’s a…well a slightly older Danny Murphy than last year.

They’ll be organised and they’ll pull off the occasional surprise, but I don’t think they’ll be able to repeat last season’s heroics.

Sunderland – They’ve always been potentially a big club, with a proud tradition and excellent support, but now some fool’s gone and given them a bundle of money and a very competent manager.

As luck would have it, the club that Steve Bruce has inherited isn’t yet in any kind of shape to compete in the league, but he’s shown a willingness to spend money and brought in Darren Bent who will improve them.

They’ll have a clearer focus in the absence of the team from down the road and might surprise one or two, but I think we’ll remain a little way ahead of these by seasons end.

West Ham - Under the likeable Gianfranco Zola and the canny Steve Clarke, West Ham had a little bit of a renaissance last season, performing well in the second half of the year. Their optimism won’t stretch to the boardroom though where frankly your guess is as good as mine.

Zola might get a bit of momentum going, but I don’t think they’ll have the strength in depth to sustain it.

We wish…

Arsenal – Arsene Wenger is a man consumed by his own genius. He can spot a talented ball playing attacking midfielder or second striker with a great touch, a penchant for goals and a big bag of tricks while they’re still in the womb.

He’s proved it in the past at Arsenal and again with a current crop that includes Fabregas, Wilshere, Ramsey, Arshavin, Nasri, Walcott, Vela, Rosicky, Van Persie and Eduardo.

Unfortunately (for them), he seems less interested in other areas of the team.

I think the squad he has is still strong enough to mean that they’ll finish ahead of us, but injuries to his back four could leave Arsenal vulnerable.

It’s unlikely we’ll catch them, but I just get the feeling that this isn’t a team that’s heading upwards.

Liverpool – I find it difficult to watch Liverpool, the mere sight of the odious, smug Rafa Benitez makes me ever so slightly angry.

I can’t say as I’m overly enamoured of Stephen Gerrard and Fernando Torres either; both of them go down very, very easily and always look like they’re about to have a bit of a cry.

The fact remains though that with those two on the field, Liverpool are comfortably out of our reach. Not title contenders in my opinion, but certainly capable of maintaining their place in the top four.

Without those two though there’s always a chance they’ll slip up and like no other team in the top four, they are reliant on the fitness of those two key players.

Again, it’s unlikely we’ll catch them, and they might yet produce a season of brilliance, but they do have an Achilles heel.

Manchester City – They went past us in a hurry this summer, and I don’t think we’ll be in a position to compete with them in the coming season.

Not everyone will agree I know, but they’ve systematically weakened the clubs around them in signing players from us, Manchester United and Arsenal, and pestering the life out of Everton and Chelsea.

The signings they’ve made have been good and I think they’ll do well.

Where they really affect our season is that it now looks possible that the team that finishes in fifth this season will be the biggest loser in the Premiership, a big four member cast out into the Europa league with the rest of us. That means that there’s a very real chance that Everton, Tottenham and ourselves will be competing for one European place in sixth.

Because of Manchester City, fifth is failure and sixth is success; welcome to the wacky world of the Premiership.

The chink of light is that they may not bond as a team and that we can nip in whilst they figure out how to get all those new Ferrari’s in gear and out of the car park.

Two we can do without….

Wolves – It’s strange, I don’t mind the Albion at all, but the Wolves have always struck me as a bit more distasteful. I quite like Mick McCarthy, but I’m not looking forward to our games being their cup final and their fans trying to insist that we are in some way their rivals. They are a bit like Coventry in that respect. Remember them?

small heath – Like a screaming child they constantly demand attention. The sensible, mature adult in me knows that we’ve got better things to do with our time…although of course, he’s not in charge.

So there you go, two rivals I think we’ll spend our season locked in battle with, three that will want to chase us down, three that might fall into our grasp and two we could probably do without. I don’t think I’ve missed anybody that we’ll need to particularly worry about...which probably means I have.

You can use the space below to let me know where I’m going wrong.

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Manchester City – They went past us in a hurry this summer, and I don’t think we’ll be in a position to compete with them in the coming season.

couldn't disagree more.

they're trying to shift from 10th to challengers in one fell swoop. A big ask, and i think there could be troubled waters ahead for Citeh, and especially Ailsa from Home and Away. She could be gone by Xmas, IMO.

Also, games are won on the pitch, not by Fantasy Football League signings.

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I have to agree with jon. I'm sure City are on the right road. Success can be and is achieved with the chequebook, but the new signings may well need a little time to gel. The season after methinks. Last season was a sorry waste of time snigger oops pmsl. This season they should be happy with a Europa Cup place. And no doubt they won't be happy and Hughes's head will roll.

Mystic Meg

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Here is a quick question. Why are only Jocks and Geordies ever described as "canny"?

Is it impossible to be canny if you were born south of the river Tyne?

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sled, I think you make an interesting point. What is the minimum requirement for Hughes to keep his job? I agree with you that it is probably CL qualification. Anything less and he's gone. Though I'm less sure than you are that he will not make it.

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Well yes. They didn't lop off Sparky's head last season so maybe there's a patient owner at Eastlands who is prepared to back his manager. Not all foreign owners are the same, as we well know ourselves.

Re Everton, one of the "good youngsters coming through" should be Vaughan, who I would tip to do big things this season.

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