Thoughts on the season ahead

Last updated : 16 August 2006 By Richard Watts
I was delighted to see the back of McLaren at the end of last season, I
thought 14th place in the league was a poor return considering the strength
of the squad and in terms of the league we are no further forward than when
Robson left.

Steve Gibson promised us a top class manager as a replacement. He has given us Gareth Southgate, Southgate was a tremendous player, it remains to be seen how he stacks up as a manager.

Worringly as far as I am concerned the squad about to start the season
doesn't look as strong as last seasons.

No problems in goal with Schwarzer, who when in form is in the top ten
keepers, just wish he would come and take crosses a bit more. I am pleased
to see that Turnbull appears to be the number two. He is very promising and did well when given his chance at the end of last season.

We are well served at rightback, Parnaby is a good player and hopefully
McMahon who looked a great prospect in 04/05 can regain full fitness and
confirm that potential.

Central defence is a worry, not least loosing Southgate who was still a top
class centre half. Riggott will be very important but who will play with him. We do need a big centre half. If Distin arrives from Man City he will fit the bill. He impressed me each time I saw him playing for them and looked far better than when he played up the road for the Geordies. If he doesn't arrive then what an opportunity there is for Bates or Wheater to grab a place. Last season I thought Ehiogu looked only a shadow of his former self and no longer good enough for the Premiership.

Shame to see Quedrue go, a very decent left back. For me Pogatetz isn't up
to the job (in fact he might be marginally better at centre half). Now doubt that Arca is a class player and he will be good down the left, the question is how good a defender is he? Would he be better playing in midfield in a Zenden position.

No problems on the left of midfield - Downing backed up by Johnson, either
of them linking up with Arca are going to be a potent attacking force down
that left hand side.

Right midfield remains a major problem, there is only really Morrison who
can play there and while he has put in some good performances, for me he has to do a little bit more but there is no one else who can play there.

Central midfield, Boateng remains a crucial player, he so good at protecting
his defence and I don't believe there is a better midfielder in the Premiership in that role. Cattermole is a great talent and I would like to see him in there alongside Boateng, he tackles well and can get forward and score goals.

Of course we have Rochemback but you can count on one hand the number of good games he plays. If Mendieta is fit, obviously he is useful to have in a central role, what a great performance he put up in that position against Man United last season.

Up front how are we going to replace Jimmy Floyd's fifteen goals. Viduka
and Yakubu are going to be first choice. On his day Viduka is a great
striker, can finish well and what a player for holding up the ball. We got
a lot of games from him in the later part of last season but of course there
was a World Cup at the end of the season. Will he play as much this season
with no World Cup to spur him on?

Yakubu had a great first half of last season and he was absoloutely outstanding against Chelsea but he did little in the later stages of the season. Maybe that was because he was "messed about" by McLaren, we will soon see. In reserve I am a big fan of Christie's who I think is a lively striker who knows how to score. Fitness is the main concern. Maccarone at times can look good (and did well on the right hand side) but he looks nowhere near an £8 million striker and has plenty to prove.

So where will we finish? We can't finish above Chelsea, Arsenal, Man Utd, Liverpool and Tottenham. I doubt we will finish above Newcastle (it grieves me to say so), Bolton, Blackburn, West Ham, Everton (with Johnson upfront) and a rejuvinated Aston Villa.

I very much hope we are better than Portsmouth, Manchester City and Wigan. I am certain we are better than Charlton, Fulham, Sheffield United, Watford and Reading.

With this in mind I am expecting a 12th-14th finish. If we get Distin, can
bring in another proven goalscorer and can get someone else for the right
side then hopefully we will be strong enough to fight for a top six place.

More from Richard thoughout the season.