On the eve of the new season, there is always a certain expectation on websites to give a prediction of where they think their club will finish and I’m going to be no different, so here’s my two pence worth.
Promotion from the Championship was never going to be an easy task and if it hadn’t been for the recruitment of Alex Neil, we may not have managed it. City went on an unbelievable run that saw the club double figures in terms of points, off top spot when Neil took over.
Ultimately, it was just slightly too much to make automatic promotion but the journey we had was worth it in the end.
So where will we finish in the forthcoming Premier League?
Plenty of journalists reckon we will be relegation fodder and without knowing too much about the club and its staff and players, that is an easy assessment to make, perhaps a little lazy. Mind you, the strength of all the teams and the spending that’s gone on this summer means it’ll be tougher than ever for the newly promoted sides.
I’m going to be a little more optimistic than that, because I can’t help myself, I’m always positive.
While Bournemouth and Watford have thrown money at the problem and recruited whole new teams, City have taken a more steady approach and made just five new signings, so far.
I don’t want to sound brash but I don’t think we needed to strengthen as much as the two other promoted clubs. Our squad was already pretty big and has Premier League experience in spades. None of the managers at the newly promoted clubs have any Premier League experience but Eddie Howe and Alex have showed they understand English football, Watford’s new man is an unknown here, so far.
It’s already been pointed out by Watford fans on this site that I am placing faith in the same players that got us relegated previously but I firmly believe that the spirit and tactical nous that Alex Neil has got going will mean things will be different this time around. Those same players kept us up for two previous seasons, after all.
The only area of our squad that does concern me is the centre back area. Ideally, I would like two new centre backs of a quality greater than we already have in Seb and Russ but I am also all too aware that this would cost us – a lot. There is a lack of pace in those positions too but with no real speculation to suggest otherwise, it seems Alex may well think he has enough, or maybe he can’t get the targets he wants yet.
The full back positions have been bolstered by the arrivals of Brady and Wisdom and the return of Toffolo, which makes me think they have been strengthened sufficiently.
Midfield is a strong area for City and the arrival of Youssouf Mulumbu is a great acquisition but his injury is disappointing and looks likely to keep him out until the autumn, at least. Much will now rest on Alex Tettey’s shoulders in that destructive midfield berth and Youssouf’s injury will mean an opportunity for others as I expect us to play a 4-2-3-1 formation.
Up front, I think in Jerome and Grabban we will have two decent strikers both capable of getting ten goals each. With Hooper, RvW and Lafferty also on the books, there are options and that’s assuming we don’t sign another hit man, which is clearly on Neil’s agenda.
Jerome and Grabban are both quick and athletic and can play the lone front man, with Grabban’s game in particular looking like it might fit the Premier League well. The supply will be crucial though and in Nathan Redmond we have that, albeit sporadically. He needs to play the percentages and make sure his final ball is good enough to give his striker a chance – this is a big season for Redmond.
We also need to have our ‘number ten’ play well and at the moment doubts persist over Hoolahan’s ability to do that week in, week out or for Tony Andreu to do it at all. Andreu is Neil’s first City buy and we saw very little of him since January but he has been fully involved in pre-season and we won’t know till we see him, as to what sort of player he is.
It could be that’s why Juan Quintero is being mooted in Italy as a City target, we’ll know soon enough.
In order for City to stay up, there will need to be three worse teams than us, naturally.
I think Watford will struggle (don’t hang me Hornets fans) and I think Leicester will struggle. Yes, they completed the great escape but the Foxes were very poor for the first three quarters of last season and in Rainieri they have the Tinkerman – I don’t think it bodes well. That leaves one other team we need to be worse than us and I’ll back Villa for that – the loss of Christian Benteke leaves a big hole to fill.
Big Ben has basically kept them up with his goals ever since he arrived at Villa Park and I think they will struggle without him. Randy Lerner’s lack of investment could cost them – Jordan Ayew is a promising acquisition but he has to settle immediately or there will be trouble scoring goals.
So that’s my bottom three, Watford, Villa and Leicester in any order you fancy. Where Norwich finish will depend on many things but I think the spirit the squad have will take them a certain distance up the league. I think that huge recruitment ala Watford and Bournemouth is a very risky tactic indeed, especially if you buy a lot of foreign players with no experience of English football, as QPR have proved, twice.
The ability of those clubs to integrate their new players into a ‘team’ will be crucial.
To that end, we already have team spirit but all the words in the world can’t explain what will happen in the future and the future is almost here, in fact it starts tomorrow.
I’ll stick my neck out and say we’ll finish 15th.