Shout to the Top

By Dave Woodhall.

I wasn’t in Braga at the weekend and neither did I go to last week’s game at Derby. From what I can gather from those more dedicated/sad than I, is that there hasn’t been a great deal happening during the pre-season fixtures that we didn’t know already.

Shay Given is a top-class keeper. When they’re on form our first-choice defence are capable of more than they showed last season. Charles N’Zogbia is class, Jean Makoun seems up to the required standard and Stephen Ireland is talented but erratic. Darren Bent is as good a natural goalscorer as we’ve had for a long while. And if any of these get injured we’re in trouble because there’s not much in the way of replacements. Barry Bannan, Ciaran Clark and Marc Albrighton, to name the most obvious, may improve further this season to emerge as genuine stars. It is, though, asking a lot and trusting to enormous amounts of luck to hope that they will all become established in the Premier League. The need for even a couple more players is obvious, and while Alex McLeish must know it, Randy Lerner seems to need a bit more persuading. Then again, Arsene Wenger has seemed oblivious to Arsenal’s need for a couple of central defenders and a goalkeeper for about five years, so maybe managers can be myopic.

Riots permitting (and the thought of inner-city mayhem in Putney is an odd concept), the Premier League season kicks off at Craven Cottage on Saturday. What seems an age ago, this time of year was made up of fantasising about what glories the coming months would bring. Now, unless you support one of five or six clubs, your hopes centre around staying clear of relegation worries and with a bit of luck finishing sixth. This is not the stuff of what dreams are made and is yet another one of my endless list of Things to Blame on the Premier League.

Fulham are one of those “the likes of…” teams, as in “We should get a result against the likes of Fulham.” The reality is that they’ve been a solid, upper-middle of the table side for a long while and a point will be a decent one. They’ve already started their competitive season, although I’m not sure whether a few gentle kickarounds in the Europa League qualifiers will count for much once the real thing starts.

It’ll be interesting to see how the Villa line up and how the new manager has them playing. One thing’s for certain though – if the team ever needed to hit the ground running, this is the season.