It's less than a year since I started this blog with my very first season preview. Looking back at that now it's interesting to see how positive I felt going into that campaign. Partly a sign of how optimistic I tend to be, but also that I really did not foresee how badly the wheels would fall off the Cookie mobile. Now I find myself in a similar position with Lawrie Sanchez. I feel he has strengthened the team in key areas and added greater depth to our squad. Uncannily similar to how I felt last year, so I am just a poor judge or are we going to have a better season.
Despite my optimism I don't have as high an expectation this time around. Last season I really felt we were ready to push on and be comfortably in the top ten, with an outside chance of a top six finish. This time I feel we will be happy with staying up, hopefully confirmed a few games before the end of the season and maybe if things go to plan, a good cup run or even a final appearance to enjoy. Whatever the outcome I can't believe we can be any worse than last year and my biggest wish for this season is that, however many points we claim, the football we get to watch will be more exciting.
I believe we're going to see a more straightforward 4-4-2 system played home and away. I don't think it will be Wimbledon style hoof-ball, but it will be pacey and direct. We'll make use of the wings and will also look to stretch defences with some pace up front. Kamara may be playing in a free role just off McBride (so more of a 4-4-1-1 really). This puts a lot of emphasis on new Club Captain McBride as we currently don't have another striker who can play that target man role. Our other strikers, though, will be able to come in and provide some variation up front. Healy is a tricky little player with a lot of skill, and I can see him being used a lot off the bench. Bouazza may get to play more often on the left wing but will also provide backup to Kamara. We might also find that if two pacey strikers are required we'll see Bouazza and Kamara in tandem. Collins John remains a bit of an enigma but there is room for him to make a mark if he puts his mind to it.
The midfield should have more width and pace than last season, two attributes we were clearly short of. I expect Lee Cook to eventually claim the left wing spot with Simon Davies and Clint Dempsey fighting it out for the right side. Dempsey is clearly a talented player and he may also get the opportunity to play in the middle or even just off the main striker as he did so effectively against Liverpool last May. Centrally Steven Davis and Alexey Smertin seem the likely starters, though Diop will be pushing hard for a place. When Jimmy Bullard returns, probably not before November, he'll add a bit a guile and cunning to the centre as well.
I think the back four will, once everyone is fit, be fairly consistent throughout the season. Baird and Konchesky will be the full backs, with Aaron Hughes (when he recovers) being the mainstay of the centre. Zat seems to be in pole position for the last place at the moment, but the absence of Hughes in the first few weeks may give Christanval or Bocanegra or Pearce the chance to stake a claim. Niemi of course will be number one, though his potential for picking up injuries is a concern, as we currently stand, without a decent backup 'keeper.
If all goes well I think we're in for an exciting season, I'm looking for more goals, better football and a lot less miserable draws.
£1m Aaron Hughes
£4m Steven Davis
£6m Diomansey Kamara
£3m Chris Baird
£3m Paul Konchesky
£1.5m David Healy
£2.5m Lee Cook
£3m Hameur Bouazza
£?k Adrain Leijer
£24m Total Spend - 9 Players
Released - Tomaz Radzinski
Released - Claus Jensen
Retired - Mark Pembridge
Free to Oldham - Mark Crossley
Free to Swansea - Matty Collins
Loan End - Vincenzo Montella
Loan End - Wayne Routledge
Loan End - Jan Lastuvka
£2m to Bolton - Heider Helguson
£3m to Wigan - Micheal Brown
£2.5m to Birmingham - Franck Queudrue
Loan to F.C. Kaiserslauten - Bjorn Runstrom
£7.5m Total Income - 12 Players
1 First Choice backup Goalkeeper
1 Experienced Centre Back
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