Premier League in Preview: Late Season Survival

08 August 2008

So here we are again taking a look at the upcoming season. I would like to thank those who took the time to let me know how much they enjoyed the first round of previews.

It's funny when I was coming up with the names for the categories I am fitting these teams into, late season survival was one of the first ones I came up with. With a couple of people asked me to define it, my mind instantly drew a blank. Sounds about right with how my brain operates from time to time. So when I did start to think about it, I kicked my own backside as the name gives it away. It was just shortening the time frame that was the most puzzling.

So late season survival to me are the teams that will gain Premier League survival between mid April and mid May. The teams that I more or less stretch into my relegation spots in my 100 games to go blog even though I know in my heart of hearts I see them staying up.

Three teams fit into this category for me. Fulham, Middlesbrough, and Wigan Athletic. Where do I see them finishing, let's find out.

Number 16: Middlesbrough

Biggest Ins: Didier Digard (can play either in central midfield or on the right wing and is only going to improve with age), and Maruin Emnes (while I don't see him starting, I see him making a competent late game substitution when in need of a goal).
Biggest Outs: Mark Schwarzer (his exit leaves Middlesbrough without a credible Premier League keeper), and Lee Cattermole (was a decent enough defensive midfielder).

Toughest Month
: December 2008. Has to travel to Hull and Fulham in between hosting Arsenal. In the 48 hours of madness with Boxing Day and the Sunday after, hosts Everton before having to play Manchester United at Old Trafford.
Easiest Month: April 2009. Goes to Bolton before hosting Hull City and Fulham. This is a stretch of games where I see them ensuring they have enough points to stay above the relegation curve. They end the month at the Emirates Stadium. It won't be three points, but it will be a bigger fight for Arsenal than they will want.

Five Questions I have for Middlesbrough

1) Which keeper will step up and replace Mark Schwarzer in goal? Neither Ross Turnbull, Brad Jones or Jason Steele invoke fear. To follow up, could Brad Guzan come in on a season long loan despite the fact Premier League clubs rarely loan between each other (Scott Carson last year was the exception to the general rule).
2) How good will the partnerships up front be for Middlesbrough? Afonso Alves came into his own at the club at the end of last year and has a good partner already in Tuncay. Emnes and Aliadiere can also fill in that role as well.
3) Is Middlesbrough in the middle of rebuilding their squad? This is a team that is rather on the young side.
4) How big of a factor is Stewart Downing in the midfield? Is his presence overstated?
5) Will Middlesbrough have to rely on getting points in high scoring shootouts this season?

My Ultimate Reality
: I look at this team and just wonder if Gareth Southgate is trying to do too much of a rebuilding job. I see their keeping situation costing them more points than should be acceptable. The back four can do the business, but will have to step up their game even more this season to make up for the inexperience behind them. They have a good midfield that can link up front and I really rate Alves up front. However I just see the loss of Schwarzer as being something that is going to take a while to overcome and I could very well see them going after a keeper in January if anything for a stop gap. In a league where you have to at times protect 1-0 leads, I just don't see them being able to do it this season and will be teetering between survival and relegation, staying up thanks to a forgiving enough April. If this team learns the lessons of this season, they could make a push next year up the table.

Number 15: Fulham

Biggest Ins: John Pantsil (a player who can play on the right side either in midfield or back), and Bobby Zamora (will get an opportunity to show his talents this season).
Biggest Outs: Carlos Bocanegra (average center back but still played a role in the squad), Brian McBride (when healthy, was their major target man up front).

Toughest Month
: August 2008. If starting away to recently promoted Hull City wasn't bad enough, they then host Arsenal and then end the month at Old Trafford.
Easiest Month: March 2009. They host Hull City and go to Bolton. That should be six points before playing Manchester United at home. No game against the big four is easy. However this is one month where they could easily get six points.

Five Questions I Have for Fulham

1) Has Roy Hodgson turned this squad over too much in the summer? They were one of the more active teams in the transfer market this summer and could it take a while for them to gel as a unit.
2) How important is Jimmy Bullard to how far this team goes this season?
3) Does Fulham have one of the weakest forward lines in the Premier League?
4) How short of a leash will Eddie Johnson be on this season or will he be shipped off on loan before he's given a chance?
5) Will injuries to key players haunt them like they did last season?

My Ultimate Reality
: Roy Hodgson is an underrated manager in my eyes and knows how to work with the pieces he's given. Mark Schwarzer is a capable keeper who will fill the number one role this year in goal. When I look at their crop of defenders, I see average players. The midfield is a good functional unit with hard working players in Alexei Smertin, Jimmy Bullard and Simon Davies. I look at these forwards and they worry me. Andrew Johnson seems to only be able to score from the spot, Zoltan Gera will have a second chance in the Premier League to show his worth. I think Hodgson's workmanlike demeanor he will give this side will be plenty enough to see this side to safety with about a month to spare.

Number 14: Wigan Athletic

Biggest Ins: Amr Zaki (can score plenty of goals), and Olivier Kapo (a versatile player in that he can play on the left or central midfield and up top).
Biggest Out: Marcus Bent (while he was on loan to start with, was a key piece up front).

Toughest Month
: December 2008. Go to Arsenal before hosting Blackburn. They then follow that up by going to Manchester United before a 48 hour excursion hosting Newcastle United and then going to Bolton.
Easiest Month: May 2009. They host Bolton before going to West Brom and Stoke City. To me that's nine points before they play Portsmouth to end the season.

Five Questions I Have for Wigan Athletic

1) Can the back line be as resolute as they were last season? For a bottom half side, they didn't concede that many goals. There also isn't that much depth.
2) Is Amr Zaki the only reliable forward Wigan have?
3) How far can Steve Bruce take them in his first full season with the club?
4) Will their unique home pitch advantage help them more than it did last season?
5) How well will Lee Cattermole fit into this midfield set up?

My Ultimate Reality
: Steve Bruce is a good manager for this club and came into a bad situation last season and saw them to safety. When you look at this squad though, you have to question if Amr Zaki will be able to make the step up to the Premier League and get the same goal output. I think they are also think at the back and any long term injuries could see this team in trouble. Kirkland for all his faults I feel is a decent enough keeper that he will help keep them in games. They won't have an easy season but Steve Bruce knows how to tactically set his sides up in order to get results. 14th was exactly where they finished last season, I see them finishing there again this season.

Tomorrow, I will be posting my show notes for this week's The Third Half and Saturday posting part three to my Premier League previews. Until then, these are my thoughts, what are yours?

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Johnathan Starling, the self proclaimed 'most brutally honest man on the net, dishes out his own unique brand of opinions, and analysis on the Premier League, Bundesliga, and all things US Soccer.

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