Written by : Jonathan Lee
So, the fixtures are out (Arsenal, Wolves, Leicester, Spurs, Man City, Liverpool in first seven games, just lovely … but, finally, no Big Six team first up, and a home Boxing day game, hurrah!) and we are only a couple of weeks from starting a new season, albeit still behind closed doors for now. As ever, we hope for the best and fear the worst, everyone doubtless checking those last three games (Brighton ,WBA, Southampton – six pointers anyone ?) to see who we need to beat to stay up. But is the current squad good enough to avoid another relegation dogfight?
Certainly the run in for Project Restart was seen as something of a success bar the first two defeats against Wolves and Spurs – 12 points from nine games would, if replicated throughout a season, return around 50 points. But let’s not forget we had only amassed 27 points from 29 games before that, unarguably poor, and it is that section of last season that provides a worry.
Certain players it appears, from what we saw in Project Restart and if they can avoid serious injury/don’t leave, we can probably rely on to turn up again for 2020/21: Declan, Jarred, Tomas, Angelo, Michail – all consistently performed and played a vital part in accruing those last 12 points – however, five players on their own cannot hold up a team over a 38 game season and it was clear ahead of the enforced break that we had issues in three or four other areas.
It has been noted by many reviews, and this one is no different, that both full back positions need an overhaul – countless goals were conceded last season by balls in from wide positions, every player will spark and have a decent game once in a while and both Fredericks and Cresswell for sure had decent games along the way but to avoid a relegation scrap and push on up the table performances need to be more consistent, much rather we see a 7/10 mark every game as opposed to an 8 one game followed by a sequence of sub-par 5 performances.
A number of names have been mooted for these vital full back positions, and one space must surely be filled by Ben Johnson, a little raw in experience for sure but in the run in showed he has the maturity to push on and establish a first team place. His natural position is right back so that would mean a search for a new left back, but as for all positions we must remember that the Club is restricted on funds unless money is made through sales. That suggests loan deals may be a more realistic option than permanent transfers. Moyes has also indicated he wants hungry players, and his re-appointment to the backroom staff of Stuart Pearce suggests a revitalised no nonsense approach, so any left back recruited may well be less ‘fancy dan’ and more ‘have it’.
At centre half Ogbonna is a shoe in while Diop, on his day, looks a fine prospect if also prone to inconsistency, so cover may be the only necessity here, with talk growing of a loan move for Shane Duffy who would represent a no-nonsense old school centre half in the Ginge variety and who in his teenage days worked with Moyes at Everton. Behind them there have been question marks raised about Fabianski and formerly uncharacteristic errors creeping into his game, notably at Anfield and home to Villa – probably not one for this coming season but next summer may see the search for a new first team stopper, we have a fine history of decent keepers (Day, Parkes, Ludo, Shaka, Green, James, Walker !) and it would be sad to see Fab decline having been our player of the season only recently, one to watch but to be mid-table or higher you need your keeper to be very much on the ball, it lifts the team and gives the defence another yard knowing they have someone covering their back.
In front of the defence things look a lot brighter with Rice and Soucek looking strong and Noble providing cover – expect Snods and Wilshere to only have supporting roles from the bench this season, at best. Bowen and Antonio can be relied on barring injury which leaves three forward positions. Anderson looks like he’ll be going out on loan somewhere, Haller is an on-going mystery and Fornals can flatter to deceive although on his day (Anfield) looks different class. An instant addition could be Diangana of course, who shone for WBA in their promotion season, but does Moyes like the look of him for a Prem season or does he cash in to finance other additions ? A tough call with Diangana also looking for assurances of first team football. Much talk abounds of the kid Eze from QPR, or Benrahma form Brentford, but both would cost at least £20m and may be out of our reach both financially and in terms of the players’ aspirations, but certainly an additional creative player in that front 4/5 is probably required given the inconsistency of our overseas players.
But we have to trust that Moyes and his team, backed by the Board, will deliver a couple of new faces that can really make a difference as the core of the squad should be capable of progressing from where they finished last season.