Harry left us with a big squad that needed trimming and rebuilding at the same time. The details have been done to death in the last couple of months but in summary, apart from wide midfield and full back, every area of the side required varying amounts of maintenance.
The addition of Dawson, Caulker & Vertonghen has helped at the back, Sigurdsson and a slimmed down Huddlestone have bolstered the attacking midfielder options but that’s it and as a repair job it’s not enough. According to his slightly manic tweets BAE is dreaming of us signing ‘a BIG striker’. He’s not the only one. I’d have two please, plus some decent cover for Benny himself, for Lennon and for Friedel. But with time running out and a star player throwing a massive sulky strop things are taking on a familiar feel. Another busy August 31st looms.
The lack of options and firepower up front make one doubt that we have the capacity to score enough to win games and thereby have a decent start to the season. Ironically and thankfully, with Bale, Van der Vaart and Sigurdsson all fit and available we’re in as rosy a position as I can remember with regards to goals from midfield.
It’s a young side, especially given the absence of King and Parker, with a young manager so we can expect to see it grow and mature in front of us. The preseason performances have been unconvincing but at no point has AVB been able to choose from a full squad. He may not even have clapped eyes on Sandro or Caulker as yet. We should know by now though that results before mid-August don’t mean anything, the object is to get all the players fit and ready, which (Parker aside) they seem to be.
Player-wise, we should once more expect Bale and Van der Vaart to be at the forefront of our best attacking performances. Kaboul and Walker had good seasons but there’s more to come from both of them. One thing we’re lacking on the field is obvious leadership and we may find that it needs to come from one of these two. Lennon showed signs of real maturity in his play and decision making last year but needs to stay fit for longer. It’s a big season for Sandro and the absence of Parker, plus his relative match fitness, will hopefully give him a chance to show what he can do, Livermore’s desire to succeed will keep the Brazilian honest if nothing else. Vertonghen and Sigurdsson look the part and should be good signings. Of the youngsters, Caulker, Townsend and Kane at least will get chances. Ryan Mason’s a good player and I hope he comes through this year. Assuming that Modric is about to disappear then Tom Huddlestone could become a key player very quickly. If his mobility matched his ability we’d have a ready-made replacement.
Villas-Boas remains the big unknown. There were mitigating circumstances at Chelsea but he never seemed to get the most from his players there, and that is obviously key to a manager’s CV. With more limited resources at WHL, we can’t afford to end up fielding a side that’s less than the sum of its parts. One of the things I keep clinging to is that in the fixture in December, when AVB was in charge at Chelsea and we were flying under Redknapp, the Chavs had the better of the game after they’d equalised and a lot of that was down to tactical acumen, something we often badly missed under Harry and presumably one of the skills that made him top of Levy’s wanted list in the summer. Stating the bleeding obvious I know but what he’s learnt from his time at Chelsea both in how to handle players and the media is crucial.
The next nine months won’t be a smooth ride. The squad is half-built and it’s desperately frustrating to feel that once again we’re starting the campaign with our transfer business nowhere near done. Despite the quality available, this is a team that exhibited relegation form for most of the final third of last season remember so there’s a lot of work for AVB to do and I expect we’ll see him learning as he goes along. Not ideal, but his record with Porto clearly shows he has qualities that should ultimately serve us well. There maybe a test of faith or two along the way though before we get there. COYS.
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