Thursday, August 16, 2012

EPL Preview Part 3: M.E.H. (Midtable Expected Here)

By Alex Miles

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Part 1: The Bottom Three (20-18): THE £40 MILLION GOLDEN PARATROOP DIVISION (so named because those clubs who are relegated receive a “parachute payment” from the EPL).

Part 2: The Mid to Lows (17-14): EPL Preview 2012/13 Part 2: RELEGATION FODDER

13th – Stoke City: Stoke finished only 10 points above the relegation zone last season, despite a considerable outlay on players. They won just four of their matches in 2012, which is a worrying trend. Perhaps staleness is starting to creep in, and I expect Stoke to have a difficult season. They have the quality to stay up, but are short in several positions.

Key Man:  Ryan Shotton (DEF) – He’s an imposing (6’3”) fullback, but Stoke need him to play because with Rory Delap getting on in the years, Shotton is the only man on the team who can simply just huck the ball into the box from throw-ins.

12th – Queens Park Rangers: Oh, how their season ended last year. A goal up to Manchester City, only to concede two goals in the last 10 minutes and lose (handing the title to City). And who can forget that EPIC Joey Barton meltdown? Mark Hughes was brought in mid-season to bring a spark (ooooh) to the team, but it looked at times like the players struggled to buy into his philosophy. Nonetheless, he is a decent manager, and has bought well in the offseason (Junior Hoilett, Ji-Sung Park, Andy Johnson). They should perform respectably.

Key Man: Adel Taraabt (FW) – Taraabt was a magician in the Championship for QPR, but had a highly disappointing season in the Premier League. Hughes needs to get the best out of him, and temper the notorious attitude.

11th – Aston Villa: I’m a fan of Paul Lambert, which is why I’ve put Villa this high. He’s an excellent young manager who is perfect for a team like Aston Villa. He’s done well so far, signing Dutch international Ron Vlaar, and hiring Michael Henke to head their scouting department (formerly of the excellent youth network established by Borussia Dortmund). With Randy Lerner selling the Browns this offseason, things may actually be looking up in the Midlands.

Key Man: Gabby Agbonlahor (ST) – Lambert likes a big boy up front (see: Holt, Grant – Norwich), and Agbonlahor is certainly large. He had a rich vein of form last year, but needs to remain consistent throughout the season in order to earn his next set of riveting desktop displays.

10th – Sunderland: I’m not quite sure what to make of the Black Cats. They had a tremendous run of form after Martin O’Neill was appointed manager, replacing Beach Ball Bruce. That form tailed off toward the end of the season. They’ve neither reinforced well – if anyone can tell me that Louis Saha is “reinforcing” with a straight face, I’ll give you the sportzbroz password – nor have they done a good job with their outs (Turner, Gyan). I picked 10th for O’Neill, because mid-table seems to be his default position.

Key Man: James McClean (MID) – James “Don’t Call Me John” McClean was impressive when given his debut by O’Neill last season. The Irish winger has a knack for goals, and needs to go from strength to strength this season.

9th – Fulham: Martin Jol is a hard guy to hate. He’s a rotund, jolly Dutchman. He likes stylish play, and is funny in press conferences. Fulham seem to have cemented their mid-table status pretty well by now. Losing Danny Murphy (and potentially Clint Dempsey) will hurt, but a second season under Jol should be good for the Cottagers. If only they could get rid of that Michael Jackson statue…

Key Man: Bryan Ruiz (FW) – The Costa Rican was a relatively big money signing for Fulham, costing them almost £11m. He showed flashes of his ability, but didn’t really produce (2 goals, 3 assists). That needs to change. 

8th – Everton: David Moyes is the management equivalent of Al Pacino in Godfather III. Just when you think he’s leaving Everton, they pull him back in. Spurning Tottenham’s advances, which resulted in a hilarious Twitter blunder by a TalkSport commentator, Moyes is now the third-longest tenured manager in the league. Everton have lost a bevy of once big names (Tim Cahill, Joseph Yobo, James McFadden) and sold promising midfielder Jack Rodwell to Manchester City. Expect Moyes to use the money well, as he’s already rumored to be lining up some good replacements. They should finish 8th again this season, and be customarily difficult to beat.

Key Man: Nikica Jelavic (ST) – the striker was an inspired midseason signing, scoring 9 goals in 13 league games. Staying in the goals will dispel any notions that he may have been a one-season wonder, and certainly won’t hurt the team’s results.

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