A Gooner’s View Of Other Clubs Of The 2014-15 Season Part 2
by Timothy Hargreaves
Hi everyone. This is part two of my series of blogs about the status of the Premiership Clubs of the 2014-2015 Season following the conclusion of the League season. In this, the second part of the series, I’ll be focusing on the three clubs which narrowly escaped relegation from the Premier League, namely Aston Villa, Sunderland and Newcastle United.
Of course, all of this is my own opinion, so feel free to disagree and debate!
What a season it was for Villa! Dreadful league form was compounded by terrible luck with injuries and a terrific run all the way to the Final in the F.A. Cup. Initially, under Paul Lambert, Villa played drab, uninspiring football being desperately short of creativity. The appointment of Tim Sherwood was a step in the right direction but Villa must maintain this to progress.
Unsurprisingly, the only team that scored less than Villa this season was Burnley – Sunderland equalled Villa’s tally of 31 league goals but conceded 4 less. Villa’s defence was the third most porous in the division, behind only Q.P.R. and Newcastle United.
Many Villa players had injuries this past season, which exacerbated their issues – Nathan Baker and Libor Kovacs being the most unlucky of those, with Ciaran Clark close behind- injuries also befell Christian Benteke, who missed large portions of the season too. All of those players would either be starting or on the bench. Villa’s best defenders in my opinion were Vlaar and Clark, so Clark’s injuries were a blow to their fortunes. Villa were very slow starters in matches too – only 4 goals scored in the opening 15 minutes of their matches, a stat which needs to be improved upon next season.
Off the field, Villa was also a mess. The owner and current Chairman, Randy Lerner, has been looking for a buyer for the club for some time and, unless one is found, I can’t see Villa making the progress that they should. Villa urgently need some creativity in midfield – Tom Cleverly started to show improvement after Sherwood’s arrival, but Carlos Sanchez, who had a good World Cup, was probably their biggest disappointment, often drifting in and out of games. There is talk that a new contract has been offered to Benteke – it is essential that they try to keep him, as he is probably their most consistent forward in terms of goals scored over the course of the season.
However, the Villa captain Ron Vlaar, who played in the 2010 World Cup Final for the Netherlands, will most likely leave, which will be a massive blow to Villa, so a suitable replacement will have to be sought quickly, something that may be difficult to achieve with the lack of funds available to Tim Sherwood at present.
For Villa to really progress, a buyer with deep pockets is needed. Villa need reinforcement at several positions, including goalkeeper, central defence, left and right full-backs (every Villa fan can agree that Cissokho is mostly awful and Lowton lacks quality), at least 2 creative midifield players – Joe Cole hasn’t really worked out due to injuries and no form to speak of, while N’Zogbia has been average to awful this season, which has piled pressure on the young but very talented Jack Grealish
A striker may also be a good buy for a new owner, due to injuries this past season to Kovacs and Agbonlahor and the lack of consistency from Andreas Weimann. Kieran Richardson also impressed me when he played and was probably Villa’s best player in the F.A. Cup final, making a number of key blocks off the line despite full-back not being his first-choice position.
Sunderland are one of those perennial strugglers in the Premier League who always seem to escape relegation by virtue of three or four teams being worse than them. They were masters of the draw this season, obtaining 17 draws over the course of the season – on some occasions, they were simply unlucky, while on other occasions, like the match vs, Arsenal, they simply set up to park the proverbial bus while looking to nick a late goal (14 goals of theirs were scored in the last 15 minutes of their matches in the Premier League).
As such, I have little sympathy for this club, who routinely spend massive amounts of money on average players, managing to find little quality despite their expenditure on transfers. This season was had some exceptions to that rule, though. Gus Poyet brought in Liam Bridcutt at the start of the season, who was probably their worst player and possibly most baffling signing, as he was a defensive midfielder unproven in the Premier League who was coming in to a team who needed a more experienced campaigner due to their inevitable struggles. John o’Shea was unconvincing as always, being occasionally very poor (I’ve never liked o’Shea as a player so I may be a bit biased). Probably their best player over the season was Patrick van Aanholt, the former Chelsea youth and reserve team left-sided full-back, who impressed both defensively and offensively for Sunderland in his first season there – definitely their best signing recently. I think they overpaid for Jermaine Defoe, who did by all rights work very hard as a wide left-sided forward, but didn’t score much after his arrival from FC Toronto in the January transfer window.
Ellis Short, the Sunderland chairman, will provide funds to Dick Advocaat, should he stay – hopefully, he will use it wisely and is a much more experienced manager than what Sunderland have had recently, so he is likely to have a far deeper scouting network than Poyet or di Canio for unearthing talent.
Sunderland are likely to need two new centre-backs (o’Shea and Brown are aging and somewhat injury-prone), a new full-back or two on either side, a defensive midfielder (Cattermole gets suspensions and Bridcutt is simply not good enough) and at least one more creative midfielder and a striker who can regularly hit the net. A big ask, but I’m sure Ellis Short will scrape together funds for at least some of their targets.
What can we really say about the Geordies? Alan Pardew got an awful lot of abuse from fans, despite the decent run before Christmas and his longevity in the Newcastle hotseat (2nd longest serving manager in the Premier League at the time of his departure behind Le Boss), so Pardew promptly went off to Crystal Palace in January as soon as they came knocking.
I can’t blame him really – Mike Ashley is a terrible Club owner who looks to only benefit his already well-filled SportsDirect.com pockets. Due to Mike Ashley still being present as the owner at this time of writing, and with John Carver’s departure confirmed on Tuesday, along with first-team coach (and former Notts Forest player and England international) Steve Stone also leaving, I think Newcastle will struggle to attract a good manager.
The name being bandied around is Steve McLaren, someone I’ve never rated as a manager due to an awful spell in charge of England and a very average one while at Middlesbrough – it’s due to that Middlesbrough and Manchester United connection that I can’t see McLaren faring well on Tyneside. He will have a struggle on the pitch too, as Newcastle had the 2nd worst defence in the division and struggled with defensive and attacking discipline in matches, often missing key players through suspension and injuries (e.g. Papiss Cisse, Steven Taylor, Ryan Taylor, Cheikh Tiote, Gabriel Obertan and others) and other players generally having poor form (e.g. Riviere) – Obertan’s injury came at the worst time as he had just started to find some form.
Newcastle’s shining lights were Paul Dummett (statistically their best defender, which was a surprise to some!) and Ayoze Perez, who had some very good showings in his first season in England. Some good moments came from Moussa Sissoko and Remy Cabella, but they were few and far between. Jonas’goal in what proved to be his final appearance on the last match day due to his cancer treatment concluding and him finally finding match fitness was probably their best moment of the season and was understandably well-received by the Geordie faithful. Unfortunately, he was promptly released by the Club, a decision that I think they will come to regret. Davide Santon has also left Newcastle to go back to Internazionale, where he spent the past season on loan and where he played a lot of his youth football – that’s a blow for Newcastle as Santon was probably their most talented full-back, despite having not appeared this past season for the club.
Newcastle United, above everything else, need to find a new owner who will not simply use the club as a cash cow for his other business ventures. Unfortunately, Mike Ashley has placed the club’s value at a price that will ward off prospective buyers and he will likely provide very low or no funds at all for purchasing new players, so I do not envy the new manager’s job there at all. The only way that Newcastle United will change is if the fans vote with their feet and not go to matches, but that goes against the die-hard Geordie mentality, or if there is a consortium of buyers who will meet Mike Ashley’s inflated asking price (somewhere around 250 million Pounds).
Agree? Disagree? Let me know! (I may be slow to reply but I always try to read every comment and reply when I can!)
The first time I saw Dennis Bergkamp play was in 1996 – I started following Arsenal properly in 1998 after the World Cup. When Arsenal then signed Thierry Henry – a player I had seen in that World Cup win by France – as well as already having Vieira and Petit there, plus several English stars like Tony Adams, Martin Keown and David Seaman just cemented Arsenal as the club for me. There was very little football coverage in South Africa during the 1990s as rugby was (and still is) the dominant sport here.
I was not really ushered in any specific direction in terms of which club to support – I chose Arsenal myself. It’s only over the last 3 years that I have been able to watch matches regularly – we get excellent TV coverage of European football now and I try to watch all Arsenal matches live.