Wednesday, August 08, 2007

EPL Fantasy - Join in

SO the EPL kicks-off on Saturday, and as always, the new season offers plenty of intrigue, with a succession of big-name signings always throwing up a series of interesting questions.

Little doubt that the title will end up in the hands of one of the big four yet again, but just which one remains less obvious. This time last season, pundits were only interested in talking about Liverpool as Chelsea's likely challenger.

Man United were third or fourth in the line of betting. This time around they are clear favourites, especially with the likes of Hargreaves, Nani and Anderson on board, and Tevez set to join. The latter three will add plenty of sparkle to any already potent counter-attack, but their success could well hinge on keeping Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo on the pitch.

But they shouldn't have it their own way. For once, Chelsea have been conservative in the transfer market, preferring the settled approach, but they have added an absolute gem in Florent Malouda, the left-sided Frenchman. Let's hope he provides Mourinho's men with more flair, for their football was hard to stomach last season.

One team that didn't fail to dazzle, as they always do, was Arsene Wenger's young Gunners, who, along with Man U, saved last season's league from being the bore that it so often was. They mightn't have won any silverware, but won plenty of admirers for the way they played the game. Thierry Henry might be gone to Barca, but don't for a second think this team won't be worth watching. Up front much will hinge on the maturing Robin van Persie, but Croatia's naturalised Brazilian Eduardo looks the goods. At the back, keep an eye out for former Auxerre right back Bacary Sagna, a strong and technically edpet (which Wenger player isn't?) player who should take to the EPL with ease and force Emmanuel Eboue into right midfield.

He's not the only former Auxerre defender set to make an impression. At Tottenham, look out for young central defender Younes Kaboul. Many pundits feel that Martin Jol's team is the only one that can upset the domination of the big four, and they certainly have some firepower in Keane, Berbatov, Defoe and newly signed Darren Bent. While I'm looking forward to seeing Kaboul, equally as exciting is the signing from Hertha Berlin of the Bundesliga's young player of last season, 20 year old midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng. Expect a few headlines.

Elsewhere, I was wrapped to hear that one of my favourite midfielders, Ghana's Sulley Muntari (so impressive at Germany '06) has joined Portsmouth from Udinese, while another youngster making the move from Italy is Fioretina's Bulgarian striker Valeri Bonijev. He is one of the many men brought in by new Manchester City boss Sven Goran Eriksson, himself brought in by new City chairman Thaksin Shinawatra. Seemingly, Mark Bresciano will be among them.

Another Aussie Mark on the move is the big man, Viduka, joining Newcastle and it's new manager Sam Allardyce, responsible for some of the most archaic, yet effective, football at Bolton. The big battle for Big Sam will not be to get Viduka and Martins firing up forward, but to tighten up what has arguably been the most porous EPL defence of the past decade. At least Titus Bramble is gone, but Peter Ramage is equally is tragic. The success or otherwise of his two central defence signings, Czech David Rozenhal and Brazilian Claudio Cacapa, could well decide Newcastle's season.

One team with no such problems at the back is the team I have been waiting for what seems a lifetime to win the league, Liverpool FC. Their problems have been at the other end, and to that effect Fernando Torres has been brought in along with Dutch starlet Ryan Babel and Israeli Youssi Benayoun. There is little doubt Liverpool need more from their strikers and wide men, and the promising pre-season news is that Steven Gerrard will be driving out of central midfield. But after 17 years of frustration, I'm not about to start getting excited about Liverpool's title prospects. That will come in March or April, if we are still in the title hunt.

Liverpool's start will be the key. Five losses in their first seven away games decided their last campaign.

Whatever happens, here's to some football that's easy on the eye.

ONE way to keep on top of things is to register and play Fantasy Football. The one featured on the official EPL site is the one we - friends of TRBA - have been playing for at least the past seven seasons. Some take it more seriously than others, and there is the odd fantasy gun, like the winner and second place in Four Four Two's Asian Cup fantasy comp, Connor and George Giannopoulos, but they're beatable if you put in the time and effort. Once you've registered and chosen your team, the code to enter the private league is 309716-62482. Enjoy, and good luck.

Edited 10th August 2007 to include second place in Four Four Two's Asian Cup Fantasy comp.


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