By Brian Rolfe
One of my old mentors used to say “It’s not whether your glass is half full or half empty that matters, it’s what you do with the contents.” Which is roughly the situation facing Rafa this season.
Last season we were sailing along too close for comfort to the drop with 29 pts from 28 games. Then in January in came Dubravka and Kenedy and suddenly 15 pts from 10 games. The consolidation of that team in itself is a positive step froward from this time last year. Whilst it is unreasonable to expect 1.5 pts per game throughout the season (57pts) the 44pts we totalled should be easily achievable. Or is it?
Looking at our starting 11 We have swapped Gayle for Muto. Whilst similar statistically, Muto’s workrate is significant. Rondon has better stats than Joselu off the bench and they were accumulated playing under Tony Pulis. The only other change is enforced by LeJeune being injured. Schar is similar in style but has to settle in quick or we will be relying on Clark. So the team that finished strongly is much the same quality. Not significantly improved. To label them as our championship team is somewhat disrespectful to the players we have.
The squad has however significantly improved. We have shipped out non players like Colback, Mitrovic & Mbemba, as well as Merino, Sels, Haidara, Gamez, Good, Findley and Armstrong. In have come Muto, Schar and Ki, with the Rondon deal done and PSG left-back Stanley N’Soki seeming likely.
So 10 out – who were not in Rafa’s plans – whilst the five in who should all get minutes. The kid’s, particularly Sean Longstaff, have chipped in too, so overall we have more depth than before. We just have Saivet and Lazaar to get rid of and the club will be in a much better place.
What about everybody else after all they have spent fortunes and have shown ambition, apparently. The three clubs above us have done little. Ben Gibson to Burnley will not transform them. Richarlison and Lucas Digne to Everton will give them a bit more balance; whilst Leicester have swapped Mahrez for James Maddison, not an upgrade. So I would argue that we have done as well as those three.
There were seven clubs below us that stayed up and only two of them have made wholesale changes, which of course holds risks in itself.
West Ham have a new manager and lots of new players, whilst Brighton have club record signing Jahanbakhsh, who was on my shopping list. I doubt that they will be at risk this season.
As to the rest, well Palace have hopefully replaced Cabaye who was a key player for them last season, Bournemouth have stood still, Watford have consolidated and Huddersfield have not strengthened up front. Southampton still have Mark Hughes and they hope to improve on their awful showing last season, but it’s hard to see where there optimism is coming from.
Which leaves the promoted teams. Wolves and Fulham have spent big to guarantee survival, whereas Cardiff haven’t.
So where does that leave us. Last season everybody except the top 6 and Burnley flirted with the relegation zone, and I kind of expect much the same this season.
Time for predictions. The top six will occupy the firsts six places in whatever order, I don’t care. Relegation favourites are Cardiff and Huddersfield, with Southampton, Bournemouth, Watford and Palace trying to avoid the third spot. Above those I see Wolves, Fulham and Leicester doing OK. So my top ten teams are Everton, Brighton, Ourselves and either West Ham or Burnley, in whatever order.
So are we relegation candidates? probably not. Top ten, again? No reason why not.
By Brian Rolfe
(Fancy writing for us? Send any articles/ideas over to us at NUFCblogsubmissions@gmail.com & we’ll get back to you!)