1. Ashley Young is a Footballer of the Year candidate
Ashley Young is a quite outstanding English footballer. Technically very adept, extremely skillful and something which many of his English contemporaries can’t similarly have said about them, mentally adaptable. Whilst the vast majority of English footballers are compartmentalised into positions (Steven Gerrard can’t play on the left for England for instance), Young is capable of filling a variety of different roles – left-side, right-side, support striker, as an attacking central midfielder – and playing in a variety of different formations – 4-4-2, 4-4-1-1, 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3.
The former Villa man looked terrific for Manchester United in their 2-1 win against West Bromwich Albion, having a significant hand in both goals, and causing Albion all sorts of problems with his pace, movement and intelligence. If he continues to play in such a vein, then there is no reason that come the end of the season Young won’t be picking up the team honours that he craves, whilst also picking up awards on an individual level.
2. Roberto Mancini should take David Silva and Sergio Aguero off the leash
Roberto Mancini did a fantastic job at Manchester City last season, leading them to 3rd place (and Champions League football) and the FA Cup. However, the Italian’s style continued to be questioned over the summer, due to what is seen as a ‘defensive approach’ – despite the fact that City scored more league goals than those great entertainers Tottenham Hotspur last season.
Now is time for the Italian to allow his City players a bit more creative license and freedom on the field of play. Alright, we can understand why he may need to reign in the wildchild that is Mario Balotelli. But the opening match of the season should highlight to the City boss that he should throw off his sides shackles, and allow them to attack their prey and go for the kill, rather than waiting for the game to come to them, using the two biggest assets at his disposal – the imperious David Silva, and club record signing Sergio Aguero.
In the opening 45 minutes against Swansea, City sat back and went in at half-time 0-0. It could be argued that they hit the bar twice, through Gareth Barry – whose slow and laborious use of possession continues to hamper City – and Silva. In the second half, showing much more attacking intent, with a higher backline and pressing Swansea into kicking the ball long rather than being allowed to pass their way out from the back, City destroyed their opponents, with a majestic performance from Silva, and a 30-minute glory-show from Aguero, which saw the Argentine assist Silva’s goal, and score two himself, with the two showing, at times, an almost telepathic understanding.
Both players are true stars of world football. Silva is probably the best technician in the Premier League, whilst Aguero’s combination of pace, skill, movement and shooting ability with either foot, make him one of the most complete forward players around today. What Mancini must now do, is give the dynamic duo the license to go and entertain supporters, to enjoy their football, and to attack teams, supplemented by the excellent array of talent that City have in their squad. Whether that includes Carlos Tevez, the wantaway former club-captain, is upto Mancini, but providing the environment that allows Silva and Aguero’s natural talent and genius to shine is the Italian’s best chance of ending the campaign with the Premier League title.
3. Goals may be hard to come by at Aston Villa – At either end
In Shay Given, Alex McLeish – a manager who moulded Birmingham into one of the best defensive side in the top-flight during their first season in the top flight (they were decent last season but just couldn’t score the requisite amount of goals needed at the other end) – has signed one of the Premier League’s best goalkeeper’s. Given’s debut showed just why the Irish stopper is rated so highly. There was nothing flashy about his display. Just effective saves when required, and a cool, calm authority displayed thoroughout which will unquestionably breed confidence into the centre-back pairing of Richard Dunne and James Collins – who under Martin O’Neill looked a rock-solid partnership themselves, under Gerard Houllier not so much. Luke Young and Stephen Warnock are solid, if unspectacular, full-backs, whilst Stilian Petrov and either Fabian Delph or Jean Makoun, provide a steady midfield base. In short Villa, much like McLeish’s Birmingham are unlikely to ship goals by the boatload.
However, what the 0-0 draw at Craven Cottage also told us, is that Villa aren’t going to be scoring a boatload either. They have Darren Bent, who will score his usual quota of anywhere between 15-25, whilst the enigmatic Charles N’Zogbia can be relied upon to chip in with eight or so. However, beyond those two, and set-pieces from which Dunne and Collins are likely to chip in with a couple, McLeish’s side may for goals from other areas. The Villains are very much short of a creative, attacking midfielder – how McLeish must hope Stephen Ireland can force his way into his first XI and emulate the form of three seasons ago at Manchester City – and playing Emile Heskey as a trequarista in a 4-2-3-1 formation is simply not the answer. If McLeish can purchase that kind of player in the remaining two weeks of the transfer window, then a top 8 finish is well within Villa’s capabilities. Without, then Villa supporters are likely to be looking at a season of consolidation in mid-table, with a number of 1-0 scorelines.
4. Blackburn Rovers are in trouble
Steve Kean’s side are in trouble. They have been ever since the takeover from Venky’s saw then-manager Sam Allardyce replaced last December and Kean, previously untried as a number one, was thrust into the role of manager. After the Glaswegian took over from Allardyce. Blackburn averaged 1.04 points a game. With Allardyce in charge, they’d been averaging 1.2.
The club’s Indian owners reckon they have a squad capable of a top 10 finish. Personally, I reckon their supporters will be more than delighted just to finish fourth from bottom. Rovers are in big trouble.
In Paul Robinson they have a proven Premier League goalkeeper, whilst winger Junior Hoilett is one of the rising-young talents. Mauro Formica looks an intelligent player, whilst Ryan Nelsen and Gael Givet provide experienced heads in defence. However, the future of defensive colossus Christopher Samba remains in doubt – a move to north London looking more and more likely – and his loss would be a massive blow, as they cannot afford to lose any defensive stability, as goals are likely to prove hard to come by, with Jason Roberts unlikely to reach anywhere near double-figures and David Goodwillie likely to need time to adjust to the Premier League from the SPL. Without Samba, Nelsen and Givet at the heart of the Rovers defence (and Michel Salgado looking as though this may be one season too far for those Spanish legs) Wolverhampton Wanderers caused Rovers all sorts of problems during their 2-1 win at Ewood Park, outplaying and, somewhat curiously, out-battling their hosts. Kean is in need of quality players, but has no money at his disposal. Rovers are in dire straights.
5. Owen Coyle is one fantastic manager
Summer must have been horrible for Owen Coyle. Firstly, last season’s top scorer Johan Elmander decided to leave the club on a free transfer, signing with Galatasaray, rather than choosing to spend another season at the Reebok Stadium. A big blow. Secondly, new Chelsea boss Andre Villas-Boas decided he quite likes the look of Daniel Sturridge, who scored 8 goals in 12 appearances on loan in the second half of last season and therefore won’t be returning to the club. Another blow. Thirdly, he sees two of his players – Lee Chung-Yong, the brilliant South Korea winger, and new signing Tyrone Mears – both break legs. His already small squad becomes even more stretched, having signed only Nigel Reo-Coker and Chris Eagles (aswell as Mears) this summer.
Nonetheless, the likeable Scot continues to work wonders – Getting Burnley promoted was a magnificent achievement, as was keeping Wanderers up after returning to the club in his first season. Bolton’s opening day win over QPR was stunning, not just for the 4-0 scoreline, but also for the manner in which it was achieved, with Wanderers playing bright, inventive football (Fabrice Muamba’s fourth goal was a joy to behold), whilst, all the time, their manager continued to cajole and encourage his players from the sideline.
Coyle’s side are in desperate need of a striker – only Ivan Klasnic and Kevin Davies are forwards with first-team Premier League experience – and Coyle is searching, and will hope to be backed by chairman Phil Gartside in the transfer market. But nevertheless, even if the right man doesn’t come available, and Coyle has to go without, with Stuart Holden to come back soon to add a creative dimension to the centre of the Trotters midfield, Wanderers should be looking at another enjoyable season in the top-flight, perfectly secure in mid-table. And it is all thanks to Owen Coyle, who is surely coming onto the radar of bigger clubs (no disrespect to Bolton) with his ability to maximise his resources.