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Saisonrückblick des Guardian

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Guardian Unlimited's Premiership review

If it's the end of the Premiership campaign, it must be time to take a look back at our predictions for the season and see how right and wrong we were. Ah, hindsight

Dan Jones

Monday May 17, 2004

Champions Arsenal - we got this one right.

Arsenal

Predicted: 1 Finished: 1

We said: "...the Gunners have been written off. But if Patrick Vieira, Thierry Henry and Sol Campbell stay fit, they will be mighty hard to stop".

What happened? Patrick Vieira, Thierry Henry and Sol Campbell stayed fit. Unbeaten all season, Arsenal were unstoppable and often utterly irresistible, with pacy, free-flowing football frequently putting some slower defences to shame.

Room for improvement? Success in the Champions League should finally see off the shadow of Manchester United's 1999 glory. Much hinges on Jose Antonio Reyes proving himself as Dennis Bergkamp's long-term successor.

Chelsea

Predicted: 3 Finished: 2

We said: "By the time their money-hungry mercenaries have finally clicked, Arsenal and Manchester United should be out of sight."

What happened? Beleaguered and eccentric to the end, Claudio Ranieri tinkered incessantly with his roster of hired guns. Frank Lampard and John Terry drove Chelsea to within a tactical howler of the Champions League final, but Ranieri frequently found it difficult to rouse his superstars against the mere mortals of the Premiership. Fortunately for him, Fergie wasn't having much more luck and second was confirmed with something to spare.

Room for improvement? Too many of the fantasy football additions have been underwhelming. If money is going to buy success, it needs to be sprayed around with a little less abandon. A genuinely ruthless striker is still missing and it looks like Hernan Crespo and Adrian Mutu won't have another season to try and fill the gap. A little more respect for Ranieri's successor would also be welcome.

Manchester United:

Predicted: 2 Finished: 3

We said: "[The] worryingly Ruud-dependent attack needs improving here and now... Second, and out of the Champions League the minute it becomes proper cup football."

What happened? Despite the lack of decent partner for Ruud, post-Beckham United started well, building success on miserly defence. Then Rio Ferdinand missed that drug test and it fell apart. Buying Louis Saha shored up the wrong end of the pitch, United started leaking goals, and the wheels came tumbling off. Fergie's feud with the Coolmore Mafia only heightened the sense of panic at Old Trafford.

Room for improvement? Is this the end of the Fergie dynasty? The Old Trafford youth-team production line has dried up, Roy Keane is beginning to pack up and United are routinely stitched up with deals for duffers like Eric Djemba-Djemba and Kleberson in a transfer market that Abramovich/Kenyon and Florentino Perez have all sewn up. The most ruthless of spring-cleans is in order and that could include the ruddy-nosed untouchable himself.

Liverpool

Predicted: 5 Finished: 4

We said: "Gerard Houllier should not be manager any more. Discuss"

What happened?After yet another season of underachievement, Gerard Houllier still doesn't look like coming unstuck, despite being knocked out at the quarter-final stage of the Uefa Cup and the fifth round of the FA Cup, and scrabbling around in the second tier of the Premiership. It all whiffed of dreadful mediocrity, made all the more galling by the apparent lack of concern from Rick Parry and an increasingly cartoonish Houllier.

Room for improvement? Djibril Cisse will arrive in the summer, and the money coming into the club should give Houllier a few million to spend/waste. But what good is that if Michael Owen and/or Steven Gerrard decide that they've seen enough and leave? A new almost anything would be nice, but many fans reckon a change of manager would be best of all.

Newcastle

Predicted: 4 Finished: 5

We said: "The following factors will see their title challenge come unstuck... the Champions League burden, Alan Shearer's age, Laurent Robert's mouth and the Crown Prosecution Service's efficiency."

What happened? The Champions League burden was sharply relieved in August, as Newcastle were knocked into the cocked hat of the Uefa Cup by Partizan Belgrade. Alan Shearer showed no signs of easing up, coming second only to Thierry Henry in the goalscoring charts. There have been signs of disquiet in the Toon camp, though, with Sir Bobby having trouble keeping discipline in the ranks.

Room for improvement? The worst away form in the top half has been their undoing this season. Newcastle need a change in attitude or a top-class attritional midfielder (especially if Lee Bowyer leaves this summer) to stiffen things up. Alan Shearer has at least one more season left in him, but Newcastle also need to begin grooming a successor. The same could be said for Sir Bobby.

Aston Villa

Predicted:11 Finished: 6

We said: "With Juan Pablo Angel and Alpay having rediscovered the will to live/play football since Graham Taylor's departure, mid-table mediocrity is Villa's" What happened? Juan Pablo Angel had a storming season, netting 15 times and attracting the fleeting attention of Arsenal. Alpay, on the other hand, attracted the ire of the entire nation when he said mean things about David Beckham's mother, then tried to pick the England captain's nose, in a bad-tempered Euro 2004 qualifier. David O'Leary sent him packing, before guiding Villa into late contention for a Champions League spot. Can consider themselves unlucky to miss out on Europe.

Room for improvement? O'Leary needs to find more adequate support for Angel, as Darius Vassell seems to reserve most of his decent performances for England. He could also add a bit of bite to midfield. Small wonder he's been making come-hither eyes at his pugnacious former charges Alan Smith and Lee Bowyer.

Charlton

Predicted:7 Finished: 7

We said: "The season-long signing of Paolo di Canio could go either way... a push for Europe lies ahead."

What happened? The signing of Paolo di Canio proved an canny one, although the season began to wane after the departure of Scott Parker. Still, there are definite signs of progress on all levels at The Valley. Room for improvement? The £10m that Roman Abramovich forked out for Scott Parker will buy "four or five" new players, according to plc chairman Richard Murray, and Alan Curbishley says he'll be putting money in all over the pitch. Creativity, though, should be the key now that Parker has gone.

Bolton

Predicted:15 Finished: 8

We said: "Much will again depend on willing workhorse Youri Djorkaeff and the fleet-but-itchy feet of Jay-Jay Okocha... our tealeaves spell out safety and progress for the Trotters".

What happened? If you'd told us in August that Rivaldo would be entertaining the notion of moving to the Reebok Stadium, we'd have patted you on the head in a patronising manner. But Big Sam Allardyce has somehow turned Bolton from scrapping relegation fodder into mid-table overachievers. Okocha provided flair and the Kevins Nolan and Davies shared the goals around. But for Middlesbrough, Bolton would have had a Carling Cup to add to glitz up the cabinet, too. Room for improvement? If Okocha leaves for a fat pot of cash elsewhere, and the Rivaldo deal collapses, Allardyce will definitely need another player with twinkles about the toes.

Fulham

Predicted:20 Finished: 9

We said: "After last season's teasing flirtation with relegation, this season they will put out." What happened? Ahem. Rather than flirting with relegation, we saw Fulham flirt with the European places. After wiping the egg from our faces, we saw Chris Coleman, "the most inexperienced manager since Attilio Lombardo" dealing admirably with his star striker Louis Saha pouting his way to Manchester United and his team still presenting respectable mid-table opposition.

Room for improvement: A quality out-and-out striker is still required to replace Saha and complement the sustained excellence and creativity of man-of-the-season Luis Boa Morte. Everton's Tomasz Radzinski would fit the bill.

Birmingham

Predicted:10 Finished: 10

We said: "A series of clever signings should ensure Steve Bruce's men continue to push on after last season's late surge."

What happened? Those summer signings were just the job. Arsenal cast-off Matthew Upson had the season of his life, deservedly muscling into Sven's Euro 2004 plans. Mikael Forssell, on loan from Chelsea, weighed in with 17 priceless goals. A late slump took a European slot out of sight, but overall Steve Bruce had a season to be proud of.

Room for improvement? Bruce says he wants to turn Birmingham into a top-five club, so the arrival of assist-happy Muzzy Izzett should be another excellent signing. And Emile Heskey's expected arrival will help the overworked Forsell too.

Middlesbrough

Predicted:13 Finished: 11

We said: "Boro will start the new season pinning their hopes on a fully fit Juninho and the tactical nous of the next England coach. Mid-table mediocrity ahoy!"

What happened? The lumpy pill of mid-table mediocrity was sugared by a trip to Ikea for a new trophy cabinet after Boro covered themselves in Carling Cup glory. The highlights of a dreary Premiership campaign were the Juninho-inspired 3-2 win over Manchester United and a 5-3 thrashing of Birmingham.

Room for improvement? The last Boro player to score more than 20 times in a season was Fabrizio Ravenelli in 96-97, so a quality goalscorer has to be top of Steve McLaren's shopping list. Assuming he doesn't spot one on England duty at Euro 2004, a Leeds cast-off would do.

Southampton

Predicted:8 Finished: 12

We said: "If Phillips can recapture his form of a couple of seasons ago, and if Beattie keeps improving the way he's doing, the Saints will be a match for anyone on their day."

What happened? Despite doing the double over Liverpool and beating Manchester United early in the season, Southampton disappointed in a disjointed sort of season. Gordon Strachan's departure in February left fans staring at the awful prospect of Glenn Hoddle returning. Thankfully, Rupert Lowe saw sense, and Paul Sturrock saw the Saints home without them ever really finding much consistency. Room for improvement? Lowe's wage structure makes it hard for Southampton to pitch in for any big names, or to avoid losing first-team stars. First job for the summer is to hold on to Antti Niemi, Kevin Phillips and James Beattie; second task is to brighten up the midfield.

Portsmouth

Predicted:12 Finished: 13

We said: "Harry Redknapp looks to have reinforced his squad sufficiently to avoid the drop."

What happened? Harry Redknapp and Jim Smith dug in to steer Pompey not just clear of relegation, but towards a comfortable mid-table berth. It wasn't always pretty, and away from home it was dire. But Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool, Aston Villa and Newcastle all dropped points at Fratton Park. The fans enjoyed it, the players enjoyed it - indeed Lomano LuaLua enjoyed himself so much that he snubbed Newcastle's pleas to return from loan for the Uefa Cup semi-final with Marseille.

Room for improvement? Secure the services of LuaLua and Chelsea's Alexei Smertin for another year, and replace Teddy Sheringham. After that, it's "just" a case of tightening up away from home. If they do that, a top-10 finish isn't out of the question.

Tottenham

Predicted: 9 Finished: 14

We said: "On paper, Spurs finally have a top-six side, especially after beefing up their strike force... But in real life things aren't that simple."

What happened? Of course they're not that simple. Glenn Hoddle's departure would have raised the morale of most squads. Unfortunately for Spurs, they were lumbered with David Pleat, a man as clueless about his successor as African geography. Spurs only consolation will be that they've actually got something to blame this season.

Room for improvement? Chairman Daniel Levy has promised big changes in the summer. A new manager, free from Pleat's influence, is most urgent. Of the playing staff, first out the door should be Dean Richards, dragging Gary Doherty with him. A new midfield would be nice too.

Blackburn

Predicted:12 Finished: 15

We said: "There's enough quality at Ewood Park to finish mid-table at a canter. Doubts remain about Blackburn's cutting edge."

What happened? As Graeme Souness put it: "Too many of my Saturday nights and Sunday mornings have been miserable this season." Far too many, in fact, as Blackburn turned out dirge after sorry dirge. Souness fell out with his players, opposition players and FA officials alike. The simple problem was a lack of quality players in just about every position, although the acquisition of Jon Stead from Huddersfield is already paying dividends.

Room for improvement? Just about everywhere. Dwight Yorke and even top-scorer Andrew Cole have lost their hunger and the defence is one of the leakiest in the Premiership. But without the cash to splash on new talent, it's hard to see where improvements are going to come from.

Man City

Predicted: 6 Finished: 16

We said: "Last season, City got into Europe through the back door, via the dubious Fair Play award. This time they could do it properly."

What happened? Could we have got it much more wrong? The season opened with David Seaman's ponytail making for the hills, and City were dire almost throughout. Fans were cheered by resounding wins over Manchester United and Aston Villa, but nobody should be fooled. City avoided the drop not on their own merit, but courtesy of the utter haplessness of the teams below them.

Room for improvement? On paper, City are not relegation material, and the board's refusal to allow Kevin Keegan any more cash is quite justified. David James' pleas for extra training to prepare for the relegation battle are instructive. Kevin Keegan may have vowed to break the habit of a lifetime and not walk out on the club, but all the evidence points to one thing: Keegan is not a manager of Premiership calibre.

Everton

Predicted: 14 Finished: 17

We said: "Rooney! Rooney! Remember the name! You can guarantee that no Premiership manager will forget it this season. The stocky striker will be a man-marked man and Everton's progress will wane like a lame pun as a result."

What happened? Rooney looks more and more like Everton's only real asset, and even he is developing a temper that could undermine all that natural ability. In the unminced words of David Moyes: "I am quite embarrassed with our whole situation. But you end up really where you deserve to be."

Room for improvement? Take your pick. Rooney may be close to signing a new contract but if the quality throughout the rest of the side doesn't improve, there's not a chance of him honouring it.

Leicester

Predicted: 19 Finished: 18

We said: "A strikeforce featuring Brian Deane, Paul Dickov and 62-year-old Sir Les Ferdinand should ensure City are down before Easter."

What happened? Leicester hit the dizzy heights of 12th in November, but that only made the drop that much harder. The footballing season was overshadowed by the imprisonment of Paul Dickov, Frank Sinclair and Keith Gillespie in a Spanish prison after they were accused of sexual assault while on a training camp in La Manga. Sir Les led the embattled squad and the forward line with dignity, but it never looked like being enough.

Room for improvement? Muzzy Izzett will need to be replaced, as will Ferdinand. Leicester will need to keep the nucleus of the side together: if they can do that, they could make a decent go of bouncing back up.

Leeds

Predicted: 18 Finished: 19

We said: "If Mark Viduka stays, if Alan Smith manages to stay out of trouble long enough to score 20 goals [...lots more ifs...] actually, there are too may ifs, aren't there?"

What happened? There were far too many ifs, and after Peter Reid was relieved of his position, club stalwart Eddie Gray was left standing to attention on deck as the ship glugged unhappily towards the murky depths of the Nationwide League. Too few of the players looked bothered enough to do anything about it.

Room for improvement? Leeds United must be rebuilt from the very foundations. If the star players are moved on at a profit, if a competent new manager is snared, if fans can stomach paying more money to watch worse football, if the board can dig the club out of the threat of administr... actually, there are too many etc and so on.

Wolves

Predicted: 17 Finished: 20

We said: "Wolverhampton's defence should hold up to the rigours of the Premiership, Oleg Luzhny or not."

What happened? After an scoring one and conceding 16 in their first six Premiership matches, Wolves were always a fair bet for the drop. They looked lightweight across the pitch and, to the desperation of the travelling supporters, didn't win on the road all season.

Room for improvement? Hang on to Henri Camara and Carl Cort, and find a way to continue the late-improved form - April saw something of a rally - then the club should push for at least for a play-off spot next season.

· You've read the piece, now have your say. Email your comments to football.editor@guardianunlimited.co.uk.

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