THE ACN SEASON PREVIEW – 2019/20

05/08/19

OK, August has rocketed round and it’s time to get Premier League ready. Here’s Punt, Lawn, Parsley, Hayhoe and Ffion to answer all the big (stupid ones we made up) questions ahead of the new season

Signing that will make the biggest impact?

Punt: Based purely on his pre-season showings, and his ability to thread a ball through to the GOAT, it has to be Patrick Roberts. The loanee, comparatively speaking anyway, isn’t a youngster anymore and this is his first real chance to prove he has what it takes. He’s also the most likely to start the season, so that helps his cause.

Then there’s the factor of him looking like he offers something a little bit different. He’s always looking to cut inside and shape to shoot, but his decision-making looks decent too. One to watch.

Parsley: Roberts will need someone to finish the chances he and football heaven create and therefore I can make a case for Drmic. Of course Pukki was faultless last season – besides from the penalty spot – but to expect back-to-back career defining seasons is ambitious and therefore at some point we’re surely going to need an able Goat lieutenant. Not to mention the cameos that Rhodes gave us in the last few minutes to see out games or help us chase late drama. Srbeny isn’t going to be that guy, as much as some want him to be, therefore Drmic could be absolutely key. I feel more confident writing this the day after he’s netted a first-half hattie…

Lawn: Rather than one signing, I’m going with the host of new contract signings. Keeping the core of last season’s magical adventure together should equate to a level of consistency in both style and performance that allows us to bloody the noses of a few dismissive bigger boys. Starting with an away win at an expectant Anfield.

Hayhoe: Tried to think of a hipster’s choice for this one but you can’t look past Patrick Roberts. He needs to learn how to link up with Pukki as quick as possible, and if that clicks we will be in serious business.

Ffion: Josip Drmic is certainly the new signing that’s made the most musical impact. Football-wise, having been sat directly behind the Kenilworth Road net that he curled a sumptuous 25-yard left-footer into the corner of, I’m excited to see more of Patrick Roberts.

Krul or Fahrmann – discuss……

Punt: There’s been plenty of close season talk about City’s statistical anomalies over 2018-19. That we massively over performed against our xG, and Krul under performed on his. That’s fair-ish, but it ignores the unseen qualities the Dutchman brings to the side. All of the backline’s young guns spoke gushingly about Krul’s ability to marshal the defence and keep their heads focused. Given we don’t really know whether Fahrmann speaks comprehensible English yet (his signing interview video was in German), I’ll be nailing my colours to the good ship Timmy Krul’s mast – for now.

Parsley: Krul was crucial to the young back four’s development, and Farke seems to be showing loyalty to ‘his’ guys. Therefore I think it will be all those who got us to the Premier League that start at Liverpool (injury allowing), with the possible exception of Roberts, who’s been head and shoulders the most impressive in each friendly so far. Krul will have a short leash though, and with the opposition we have in the first five games – and I’m not talking about the Magpies and Hammers – Farke could easily have a mandate to say “Sorry Timmy, but 16 goals conceded already means I have to give Ralf a go in the net”.

Lawn: Boringly, I agree wholeheartedly with my mates. Krul absolutely deserves to start the season for all of the reasons above. I spoke last season of Krul being our weak link, but he improved markedly as the campaign wore on, unsurprisingly given how long he’d been without regular football prior to joining us, so I fully expect that improvement to continue and him to keep Ralf out.

Hayhoe: I think Farke will play Fahrmann as the regular starter purely on the basis that, as much as I think he is brilliant, Krul is a bit too error-prone for the Premier League. But the decision to retain Krul in the squad is 100% correct. With the right sort of management, he can become an important senior figure off the pitch and this can sometimes, especially in a team devoid of Premier League experience, can be just as vital as what is happening on the pitch. Klose, Hanley and a number of other players proved this last season, almost becoming non-commissioned officers as the link between the management and the rest of the players. And, when the inevitable ban or injury arrives there’s a ready-made replacement ready to go.

Ffion: The good thing about being the last to answer is that I can just agree with what everyone else says. So it’s also my view that Krul should start at Anfield – and he’ll be more than up for the second game against his old side Newcastle – and we see how we go from there. It’s great business from the club, though, to have brought in such genuine competition for a relatively small loan fee outlay.

Where are we gonna finish?

Punt: The optimist in me thinks we might have a crack at somewhere around tenth to 12th, but the realist says 15th. City’s still unrefined style was deployed pretty well at the Emirates and Stamford Bridge in 2017-18 and I have no reason to think we can’t adapt. Thinking about it though, Farke’s team Mk. 1 lacked an Emi Buendia and Teemu Pukki, so maybe the Champions League spots aren’t out of the question.

Parsley: I don’t care on the condition that we play the same way and the spirit and character remains the same. The Championship is way more fun. We win/get promoted from it once every four years or so, we’re really good at it. If Farke goes all Hughton on us to try and grab 17th, then that connection with the fans will regress to ‘moaning of the supporter loyalty tax announcement’ levels and never recover. I would pick 14th, because I just think we have enough goals in us to stay up with a bit to spare. We won’t be safe by February, but I also don’t think we’ll be playing meaningful games in April.

Lawn: Taking the question at face value, we will finish at the Etihad on 17th May.

If we’re not being facetious however, I genuinely have no idea. Part of me thinks; ‘last season was one of those wonderful years where everything went right and we can’t continue to pluck late goals from nowhere, so we will regress to the mean and drop back down’. The other part of me thinks; ‘remember Elland Road, remember Stamford Bridge, remember the Emirates. Against the best sides, Farke’s teams have always stepped it up and played a style of football that has seen us compete with the best sides (not you Leeds) and win, comfortably, in the most important games (this time I mean you Leeds)’. In short, I don’t know. I don’t think we’ll be bottom. I don’t think we will be top four. Beyond that, not a clue.

Hayhoe: Haven’t got a clue. This season is the rarest of things in that it is a “free shot” season, and anything other than a Derby style humiliation is absolutely fine with me and, I think, most of us. Go down? The Championship is fun anyway so that’s not a big deal. Considering we’ve held onto our top talent through new contracts and made some decent new signings under the “no dickheads” rule, I don’t think we’ll go down and I also think that we’re going to seriously surprise a lot of people who have completely underestimated us by predicting the league table on net spend from the previous transfer window. Might turn out to be pretty brilliant. Ultimately, though, football is chaos and a braver person than I will be putting a bet on where we are going to end up.

Ffion: I genuinely think we’ll be OK. We’ll hit sticky patches – probably several of them – but unlike in previous Premier League campaigns there’s no question we’ll do anything other than stick to our style and mentality, which is exactly what we should be doing. Where we actually finish will depend more on the relative strengths of the rest of the division, but I can easily foresee there being three teams we’re better than, and hopefully quite a few more than that.

Forget the ‘Big Six’, who’ll win the titanic tussle for seventh spot?

Punt: Wolves will continue to strengthen, but if their flirtation with Europe drifts into October or beyond then it may place a strain on their squad. A James Maddison-inspired Leicester might just have enough, but Brendan Rodgers might do his best to uninspire them so I’ll plump for Everton. The Toffeemen grabbed a few headlines with their results in the second half of the season and with Silva now having had three windows to improve the squad they might be a surprise bet for the cups too.

Parsley: I agree with Fiat Punto and believe Everton will kick on a lot more this season. They’ve recruited well, while Wolves will come back to the pack, because history tells us that always happens. One of the promoted three will likely kick on a surprising amount, but only to tenth or ninth level at best due to none of them having the agent network/cash combo that Wolves had to do so last term.

Lawn: Watford continue to impress me. Much like Stuart Webber, they have a recruitment plan in place that continues to yield undiscovered gems, that allow them to improve year-on-year without ever alerting the TalkSport panel of their impressiveness. Reading on and Mr Tom Parsley tipping them for the drop only serves to reinforce my confidence in them.

Hayhoe: Actually, I think one or more of the top six will have a stinker this season and drop out. It could be Arsenal or Chelsea, there’s a sense of impending doom over those parts of London at the moment as no one is really quite sure what to make of anything, and all it will take is a trigger sacking and a recruitment mistake and either of them could be floundering. Then there’s also Man Utd, who seem to constantly be doing a good impression of how not to run a football club in a modern way, in a weird sort of defiance of convention. Replacements? Wolves will probably be up there with their gaming of the system through their agent network…maybe? Everton? Perhaps Leicester? Could be quite an interesting watch.

Ffion: Leicester had an odd season last year, with some brilliant results – beating Man City, Chelsea and Arsenal – tempered with home defeats to Cardiff, Southampton and Newcastle. They’ve made some smart signings and if they can sort out that inconsistency I think that makes them the best of the rest. As a slightly more outlandish suggestion, West Ham have thrown a lot of money around this summer, some of which might stick.

Who’ll win the Jez Moxey prize for relegation, relegation, relegation?

Punt: Mike Ashley is doing his level best to piss off the entire Tyneside region, and that anger from the stands has to transmit to the players. Throw Brucie in the mix and it could get ugly, fast. Also, can we get rid of Bournemouth now please? I’m all for young English coaches coming through into the game but there’s something infinitely unlikeable about Eddie Howe’s pained expression during games. It’s like he REALLY needs the toilet but can’t take his eyes off the game.

Chris Wilder’s Football Manager tactic of just signing hundreds of strikers probably won’t make the grade too. Bye bye Blunts.

Parsley: Watford, Brighton, Burnley bye bye. We are due a season where all three promoted sides stay up, while I don’t really follow the logic of the Blades’ transfer dealings, they could say the same about our prudent approach, and probably in spite of finishing seven points behind us couldn’t name many of our first choice XI. I agree with Punt that Bournemouth are totally unnecessary in the top flight, however I have huge admiration for Howe and the way he conducts himself, the bravery he shows with style, shape and tactics. As soon as Eddie gets the right job offer, he will move on, they will begin their overdue plummet. May not be this season though.

Lawn: My agreeing with those pair balance has been restored. One sensible suggestion from each of them in Newcastle and Brighton, although I am impressed with Graham Potter. Joining them could be Palace. Shorn of Wan-Bissaka and with Wilf getting miffed, I can see them struggling. Sheffield United’s innovative over-lapping centre backs could be excellent or awful against bigger sides as could our own slow, slow, slow, FAST, possession approach. So Newcastle and Brighton to be joined by one of Sheffield United, Palace, us and Burnley.

Hayhoe: Tapping my pen on my teeth thinking of this one. I actually don’t think Newcastle will go down unless something really drastic happens up there because there’s so many mediocre teams around them. I really didn’t think Sheffield United were all that much when I saw them last season, and I can see Palace being in trouble if their main players don’t bother turning up to force through moves elsewhere. I have gone from a begrudging admiration of Bournemouth to an active dislike over the course of the last few seasons and I really want them to go down, even though I don’t think they will. Then there’s Brighton, Burnley, Villa. West Ham. Watford. None of whom seem to be that good either. Safety in numbers has played a part in the last few seasons and I think this will be the same this time round, so let’s go Sheff Utd, Crystal Palace and…um…Burnley?

Ffion: Sheffield United will have plenty of fight but I can’t see that being enough to keep them up. As indicated by the answers above, it’s to our benefit this season that there are quite a few teams in this bracket of uncertainty proving that there’s really no such thing as an “established Premier League club”. Newcastle are just irredeemably chaotic and the likely swathes of empty seats at St James’ Park as fans boycott might well have an impact on the team. I’ll go Burnley for the final place, because in recent years our various promotions and relegations have seen us avoid each other, so a second consecutive season together would be very odd.

You’re Daniel Farke for the next few days – what’s your biggest priority?

Punt: First I’d check his bathroom cabinet to unearth the secret of why he smells so damn nice. After that, drilling in a way to contain more technical teams, then countering at pace would be great. It’s already something we’ve seen (Leeds at Elland Road a prominent example) but might be the key tactical reason we can stay up if implemented correctly.

Parsley: Demand that unless we change to yellow and green chevron goal nets in time for the visit of Newcastle then he is resigning immediately and taking Emi, Teemu and ACN with him to his new club (probably somewhere really warm, with fantastic local cuisine but must have a socially conscious government, otherwise Lawn won’t come).

Lawn: I’d be straight on Football Manager; ‘Scouting - Player Search’ and filtering players with 15+ in; passing, tackling, positioning, off-the-ball, concentration, decisions, determination, anticipation, first touch, composure, strength, stamina, natural fitness, acceleration, teamwork and bravery. Namely a defensive midfielder made of steel and coated in the softest velvet. Once they’re in the door, I’d be sorting those chevron goal nets above.

Hayhoe: Tell the team what is going to happen at Anfield. That the Champions League trophy will be paraded around and the Kop will sing 'You’ll Never Walk Alone' at the top of their voices and everyone will be fawning over Liverpool and saying how great they are. Make sure they realise this. Tell them to not get over-awed by it and tell them to not show them any respect. None. It doesn’t matter that Liverpool have some of the greatest players in the world and it does not matter that they are the Champions of Europe. The Norwich players all deserve to be there entirely on merit. They had nothing handed to them, no massive transfer fee, no huge bonus when they signed their first professional contract. Tell them to remember that moment they were sitting in the dressing room of that Spanish or German second division club after another defeat, or when they were yet again at the clinic talking to the specialist about whether they’ll be able to play again, or when they were told they were not good enough to continue playing for that club’s youth team, or every time they wondered why they were sticking with playing out from the back after yet another misplaced pass lead to a goal. It could have been so easy to pack it in, drop down the leagues, play abroad or retire. And yet here they are, about to play the Champions of Europe. They only got there through sheer determination and hard work: at the training ground, in the gym at Colney, standing in the rain playing passes in triangles until they got dizzy, throwing up after doing lap after lap on the cross-country run. If they remember all of that, it could be the greatest night of their lives.

Ffion: Cheers Nick, how am I meant to follow that? Daniel Farke’s priority in the final week before the big kick-off will, of course, be shopping for a range of new coats to grace the Premier League. A Friday night at Anfield, even in August, will likely have enough of a chill in the air to require at least a stylish lightweight jacket, and with Jürgen Klopp more of a club tracksuit man, there will only be one winner in the sartorial stakes on that Teutonic touchline. The biggest test will come at Newcastle on the 1st of February, which will probably get moved to a Monday night for good measure – perhaps something quilted, with a big furry hood and deep pockets (insert your own transfer budget joke).

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