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Guest Article....."The Big 4"

Thursday, 1 November 2007

I thought it was about time I chipped in with my opinions on the respective title aspirations of the so called “Big 4”, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool & Man Utd.

I personally am a Liverpool fan, but I will attempt to provide as unbiased a commentary as possible.

Arsenal

Yet another crop of amazingly talented youngsters, is beginning to show its true potential under the squirrel headed Wenger. No one can deny that this Frenchman is a genius when it comes to taking unheard of youngsters, that seem to be slipping through the net of other big clubs and turning them into high quality footballers. I use the term footballer as a mark of respect here as these lads play the game in its purest form. It was once leveled at teams like Arsenal that they wanted to walk the ball into the opponents net, but not this bunch, they know when to play, but also know when to play the killer pass or take on the shot. Just look at Hleb’s quality through ball for Fabregas to score against my beloved Liverpool at the weekend. Not only did he back himself to make the right decision, he also had the speed of th and foot to be holding off 3 defenders at the time. Hleb has made massive improvements this year, but no-one can deny that the Arsenal show is run by Cesc Fabregas. He has truly stepped from the imposing shadow of Thierry Henry and has shown himself to be the new leader and talisman for this team. He has added goal scoring to his already excellent range of passing to make him one of the most complete midfielders in the world.

In Van Persie, Adebayor Eduardo & Young Theo Walcott they have strikers with all sorts of pace power & skill in abundance. No-one can question the attacking ability of this team, however in a rather Hansen-esque way it is the defence which troubles me. They have a serious lack of aerial ability when the 1st choice back 4 of Sagna, Toure, Gallas & Clichy are playing. These guys are excellent defenders against quick, pacey strikers, but struggle to cope with an aerial bombardment, so is it a matter of time before teams work this out, or will Wenger pull another rabbit from the hat and continue to do what he does so well – stay ahead of the game. My prediction for this bunch of youngsters is that it may be a season too soon for them and if they are struck with an injury to Fabregas, do they have the quality in depth to cope? My prediction – 3rd.

Chelsea

Under Mourinho they were predictable, boring, but very effective. Abramovich has made the decision to oust the “Special One” in order to pursue a route to glory using beautiful football. It is a very brave or stupid decision, but from someone with so much money I’ll go for brave. His personal fortune and massive financial commitment to the club would indicate that he has satisfied his initial desire for trophies, now he wants more entertainment to go with the results. These 2 things do not always go hand in hand and a transitional period may be eased by having such quality already available to him such as Drogba & Lampard. Assuming both are still with the club after January I think that they will be right in the title hunt as they have one of the meanest defences around and still have the ability to fall back on what they have learnt from Jose, in terms of getting a result when they don’t play well.

J.Cole SWP & Malouda along with Lampard and Drogba provide a potent attacking force, which coupled with a defence with the experience and organization of Chelsea’s, backed up by the best goalkeeper in the world makes them a very difficult team to beat.

If Avram is given the freedom of the Abramovich chequebook in January and they are within striking distance I would not be surprised to see this bunch go very close again. They have excellent squad depth everywhere apart from upfront where they would struggle to replace Drogba. He will be unavailable for 20 days in Jan/Feb due to African Nations duty and unless they have recruited a proven premiership hitman before he goes, that period could be critical to the challenge they mount. Rumors abound that Anelka will be snapped up in January and if that is the case I think he can fill part of the massive hole left by Drogba. Speculation aside and based on what I’ve seen so far of the Avram Grant show my prediction is for them to finish 2nd.

Liverpool

Rafa, Rafa, Rafa do you honestly know what your best team is? Thousands on the kop and at home think they do, but each and every week he chooses to chop and change and not allow any rhythm and continuity to build between his players. It’s no coincidence that Liverpool have one of the tightest defences in the league, as he plays pretty much the same back four and keeper each weekend. They don’t have any pace at the back and this must be addressed in January as teams have now worked out that a few quick one two’s around the Liverpool defence will cut them to pieces. If Rafa were to give his strike partnership and central midfield pairing the same run in the side as he does his defenders then I would not be surprised to see a much more free flowing attacking outfit. Rafa has spent big on Torres and I believe he spent well. Torres in his short time in the premiership has looked impressive, couple that with Gerrard in top form and Alonso pulling the strings from midfield Liverpool have the potential to score goals aplenty and keep it tight at the back. However elsewhere a serious lack of match winning talent exists. None of the other current crop of Liverpool strikers seems capable of scoring 10-15 premiership goals, let alone the coveted 20+ per season. In midfield no creativity and ability to beat your man exist outside of Gerrard. As has been proved over the last few years, when the games get close at the crunch part of the season, a little magic or quality makes all the difference.

In Rafa’s defence over the last 3 seasons his rotation policy has paid benefits from Christmas until the end of the season, where Liverpool have taken more points than any of the other sides in with a shot of the title. So if they can get to Christmas close to the lead we will see if the proof of Rafa’s rotation pudding is in the eating. Although a lifelong Liverpool fan with a burning desire for us to win the league again, I can’t see it this season and my prediction is another 4th place finish unless some sort of miracle happens, or a lot of quality signings occur in January.

Man Utd

So those of you who have managed to read all the above will have worked out that I’m going for Utd to win the title again. I said I’d try to be unbiased and as much as it kills me to say it I think Utd have the players and the know how to get the job done again.

In Ferguson they have a manager who seems to have found the correct blend between the pure football of Arsenal and the ability of Chelsea to grind results. No-one can doubt that they have quality across the field. In Vidic they have possible the best out and out Central Defender in the world. They guy would throw himself in front of a speeding train if it meant stopping a goal. Coupled with Ferdinand’s pace and ability on the ball they have an excellent defensive line up who are now rivaling Chelsea and Liverpool for being tighter than a Nuns chuff. In midfield they have recruited Owen Hargreaves who will do the dirty work, and allow the flair players to get on with what they do best – Wreak havoc in opposing defences. In Cristiano Ronaldo they have potentially the best player in the premiership, if not the world, at creating something out of nothing. The guy has so many tricks he could lose his own shadow. The unholy union of man and beast that is Rooney and Tevez seems to be forming into one of the most creative frontlines in the premiership. Admittedly they both fell through the ugly tree and hit every branch, but no-one can question the footballing ability and goal scoring capability of these two. Both are potentially world class and worryingly for the rest of the league, are beginning to prove it.

So with the package of a mean defence and an attack that can conjure goals from nothing, along with a manager who is the master of the squeaky bum time mind games I can see no further than another title for Utd. I hate saying that.

Ryan Thompson