New football season preview – Part 1
As the new football season approaches I thought it time to start taking a look at some of the stories that have grabbed the headlines over the summer break. I intend on this being a rolling series so I’m going to deal with a number of issues over the coming days. By the time everything kicks off I’ll hopefully have most items covered and I’ll also focus on a different team at the end of each blog in the series. It’s an open forum so drop me a line if there’s anything in particular you’d like covered.
1 – Is Xabi Alonso worth all the fuss Real Madrid have made over him and will his departure be a major blow to Liverpool’s title chances?
Alonso has been a super player for the Anfield side since he arrived in England in 2004, of that there can be no question. He is a fantastic passer of the ball, has a wonderfully accurate shot from distance and is not afraid to get stuck in when it matters. So yes I reckon he is worth all the fuss Madrid made over him and he’ll be a major asset to their new side. Alonso will play alongside Lass Diarra in a two man midfield with Kaka, Raul and Ronaldo forming a formidable trident further forward. If that’s not enough Karim Benzema will be the out and out striker up top. Yet goals have never been the problem for the mediocre Madrid sides of the past few seasons. With Raul Albiol and Alvaro Arbeloa the only new additions in defence this area could still prove to be their Achilles heal.
As for Liverpool well it’s certainly a blow, how fatal it will be remains to be seen. In seeing Man United lose Cristiano Ronaldo to Real, Liverpool fans sensed that they now had a definite advantage with the Torres/Gerrard/Alsonso+Mascherano unit still in tact. Now that its been dismantled somewhat it’s back to the drawing board for Rafa Benitez. Alonso was the artist to complement Mascherano’s aggression and replacing him in kind will not be easy. Names like Christian Poulsen from Juventus and Alberto Aquilani from Roma are in the frame to arrive at Anfield but neither are at the same level as Alonso. Perhaps young Steven Defour at Standard Liege will be the man to fill the departed Spaniards boots. Regardless of who it is Alonso’s exit upsets Liverpool’s balance and how quickly they strike a new one will be a major factor in determining how successful they are during the coming season.
2 – How will Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Samuel Eto’o settle into their new teams?
Aside from the Cristiano Ronaldo transfer, and I’ve blogged about that already, the biggest transfer deal of the summer has seen Ibra move to Barcelona for 35 million pounds along with Samuel Eto’o heading in the opposite direction to join Jose Mourinho at Inter Milan. Many people think that Inter have done really well out of this deal but the fact remains Eto’o only had a year left on his contract, leading to a value of no more than 10 million for a 28 year old with bad knees. Barca stumped up massive cash alright but if Cristiano Ronaldo is worth 80 million then surely 35 million, plus an unwanted player for Ibrahimovic, ain’t an unrealistic amount.
Both Eto’o and Ibrahimovic scored 57 league goals over the past three seasons so goals are not going to be the problem with either. Eto’o is a notorious character and although it is a brave move by Pep Guardiola to dispense with him, he obviously felt the time was right for a change. With two Champions League and three La Liga medals already tucked away from his time in Catalunya Eto’o might just feel his work is done. It’s quite possible he views Serie A as no more than a cushy spot to play out his remaining years which will drive Mourinho mad if it turns out to be true.
Then again Mourinho may not be there long into the future if there’s another Champions League failure this season. That is his sole remit in Milan, league titles are won as a matter of course nowadays, and the additions of Lucio, Diego Milito and Tiago Motta hardly signify that an all conquering squad is being assembled at the San Siro. The aforementioned three are all good players, Milito especially will be on hand to score plenty of goals, but the balance of power in European football is with Spain and England at the moment and that’s unlikely to change anytime soon.
Ibra sensed this and knew he needed to move in order for his career to progress onto a higher level. He is now a member of the most gifted squad in Europe, full of world class players, topped off by the master of them all in Lionel Messi. Barca will be a different side in 2009-’10 as they will no longer be able to rely on the poaching talents of Eto’o, rather they will have to integrate the more balletic and enigmatic skills of Ibrahimovic.
It’s not hard to imagine the likes of Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta working with the big Swede on the training ground every day, conjuring up new ways to torment defences. Even if Ibra is at first used as a target man as he gradually finds his feet at the Camp Nou he’ll have the likes of Thierry Henry, Bojan Krkic and Messi himself to run onto his nods and flick ons. It’s a tantalising prospect and one I am really looking forward to seeing in action. After winning an unprecedented treble in his first season in charge coach Pep Guardiola is not resting on his laurels and that in itself is a warning to the rest of Europe.
3 – Team Focus – Juventus - Is the Old Lady ready to rise again?
Juventus has had an interesting summer with its moves in the tansfer market, signalling that it means business again after a few years in the wilderness. The return of Fabio Cannavaro has divided fans of the Turin based club but the World Cup winning captain has a bit left in him yet. It is a defense also featuring Gergio Chiellini, Nicola Legrotaglie and Zdenek Grygera, giving Ciro Ferrarra’s side a solid base. There is of course the small matter of Gianluigi Buffon being the man between the sticks behind them.
In midfield the acquisitions of Diego, from Werder Bremen, and Felipe Melo, from Fiorentina, provides them with strength and creativity in abundance. Both of these guys are young enough to keep improving and hungry enough to fight their way to the top. They also have the wonder kid Seb Giovinco in the ranks, the old warhorse Mauro Camoranesi and the ex-Liverpool battler Momo Sissoko to patrol things in the centre of the park.
Up front Juve still rely heavily on the ageless, some would also say peerless, Alex Del Piero to supply a steady stream of goals. Del Piero keeps going season after season and is often a joy to watch, especially from dead ball situations. Other options in attack include Vincenzo Iaquinta, David Trezeguet and Amauri, who has yet to hit the heights he reached at Palermo, but may be worth persisting with. If Inter are to be seriously chalenged for the title this season my money’s on Juve to be the ones giving them the most to think about.