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Old 6th August 2007, 10:42   #1
TanyaT
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Default Premiership: team-by-team guide

Arsenal


THE CLUBNickname
The Gunners.
Nickname should be
The State-Of-The-Art Precision Rifles.
Bankrolled by
Only member of the current Big Four not yet the plaything of an overseas billionaire. Three main shareholders are also fans, if extremely wealthy ones (David Dein's stake, bought for £290,000 in 1983, is now worth £57m). Talk of a takeover by one or both of Bernie Ecclestone and Stan Kroenke is regularly pooh-poohed. But so were the Henry-to-Barcelona rumours.

How they'll do
Gloom at Henry's exit has lifted slightly with the left-field signing of Eduardo da Silva, the return from injury of Robin van Persie (last season's top scorer, lest we forget) and the collective headlock that persuaded Cesc Fábregas not leave for Madrid. Anything less than a Champions League place would be near disaster.
Nightmare on Memory Lane
The most trauma-free club in the land. Last relegated in 1913, although they did finish 12th in 1995, the same year they lost Paul Merson to rehab, George Graham in a bung scandal and the Uefa Cup final to ex-Spurs player Nayim's wonder goal.
Fine them £5.5m for ...
Self-righteous pilates-and-wheatgrass-smoothies training regimes. Disdain for native tactics in favour of tap-dancing around for half an hour before missing from six yards with a mid-air backheel.
Big in...
Guinea. The official supporters club started with 30 members "but we have now grown to 200 die-hard fans of Arsenal". Based in capital Conakry which, incidentally, has no working traffic lights.
On the road they'd be ...
The Flintstones' Flintmobile: While progress might have appeared serene, it was in fact propelled by the speed and power of one man, whose legs had to work furiously to provide any momentum at all. But take him away and what are you left with? You do wonder. If the apparent lack of investment continues it may end up looking like something from the Stone Age.

THE PLAYERS
Answer to McClaren's prayers
Bakary Sagna's arrival should put paid to Justin Hoyte's first-team spot; beyond that you're looking at Theo "One Goal" Walcott and Hoyte's 17-year-old brother Gavin, who is, apparently, a bit tasty. Manuel Almunia qualifies for England next year and fancies a go. Frankly, Steve, what with the traffic, it's probably not worth the trip.
Underrated achiever
Nobody talks about Ashley Cole much since the return to fitness of the jet-heeled Gael Clichy last season.
Will see red
Jens Lehmann is the only player to be sent off in a European Cup final and retains an endearing don't-invade-my-personal-space streak of lunacy.
A warm welcome to
Da Silva cost a hefty £7.5m but should be revved up to take his chance: when he first arrived at Dinamo Zagreb he was so poor he had to sleep in the stadium. The padded seats at the Emirates may have clinched the deal.
Fans would nominate for eviction
Calamity-prone Philippe Senderos. Rumours of a £3m bid from Juventus were met with disbelieving tears of joy. Appears to have been just a little joke, however.
Heading for Hollywood
Theo and Melanie Slade have turned out to be more Byker Grove than Beverly Hills. Tomas Rosicky, on the other hand, is A-list celebrity fodder in the Czech Republic, due to being seen around town with Czech Miss Universe contestant Jana Kocurova.
We know what they did this summer
Arsène Wenger was "spotted" by the Mirror's 3am Girls flying to Sardinia ... Cesc Fábregas came back early from a break in Spain complaining of being "bored".


THE MANAGER: ARSÈNE WENGER
Learned at the knee of...
Got his break at Nantes, mucked around in Japan for a bit and arrived at Arsenal after a recommendation by Gérard Houllier.
How he likes to play
Pass and move, pass and move, pass and ... will someone just have a shot, please?
Media handling
"I did not see the incident" routine now something of a self-parody. Explodes with rage once a season in mind-games-related incident. Perfectly willing to talk at length about the Belgian second division.


LAST SEASON
Premiership 4th
Points per game v top 4 1.83 v the rest 1.78 Champions League Last 16
FA Cup 5th round
Carling Cup Runners-up
League discipline Y58 R3
Top scorer Van Persie 11
Fair play league 3rd


THE FACTS
Ground Emirates Stadium, Ashburton Grove, Islington, London N5 1BU
Getting there Arsenal (Piccadilly line), Highbury & Islington (Victoria) and Drayton Park (BR) walkable. Holloway Road (Piccadilly) exit only on match days
Switchboard 020 7704 4000
Capacity 60,000
Away allocation 3,000+
Ticket prices £32-£94
Ticket office 020 7704 4040
Disabled facilities 020 7703 4490 (Alun Francis, disability liaison officer)
Club shop 020 7704 4120
Official website www.arsenal.com
Title odds 10-1
Relegation odds 1,000-1

----
Aston Villa


THE CLUBNickname
The Villains.
Nickname should be
Just look at the background colour of that fancy new crest! Dear, oh dear. If it wasn't already taken by a certain other team, we'd guess you'd have to call them The Blues.
Bankrolled by
US businessman Randolph Lerner is heir to the MNBA credit card fortune, so he knows a thing or two about spending vast amounts of cash on things you don't really need. He's also owner of the Cleveland Browns NFL franchise, whose pedigree has Villa written all over it: the Browns have lost at least half of their games in every season since Randy took over.
How they'll do
Threatening to gatecrash the Champions League places in October, haunted by very real relegation fears in February, bored in mid-table by May. As usual.Nightmare on Memory Lane
Older fans will shudder at being relegated in 1987 under Billy McNeill a mere five years after winning the European Cup; younger fans won't want reminding of the goalkeeping antics of Peter Enckelman and Thomas Sorensen, who took turns to make the first Birmingham derbies in years a living hell for Villains.
Fine them £5.5m for...
Getting in a professional designer to knock up a new crest - only for it to look exactly the same as the old one.
Big in...
The US Military. General Charles Chandler Krulak, a former Commandant of the Marine Corps, has posted over 300 times on a chatboard concerned with hot Villa chat. OK, so he's a club director ... but then again, how many directors do that?
On the road they'd be...
Eddie Stobart lorry: a permanent fixture in the country's major roads, they haul themselves around the nation sticking largely to the slow lane. You always notice their striking colours and it's comforting to see them around but admit it: you have no idea where they are going. Recently appointed new driver is yet to locate accelerator.


THE PLAYERS
Answer to McClaren's prayers
Gabriel Agbonlahor was good enough to give a defence as stubborn as Chelsea's the runaround last year, so he could do a job for England. However, rumours suggest the striker-cum-winger may elect to play for Scotland - his mum is Scottish and he must look at Shaun Maloney and think: "Well, if he can get a game..."
Underrated achiever
Former Czech international Patrik Berger will be considered yesterday's news by most of the country but anyone who saw his playmaking performances towards the end of last season will realise why O'Neill has given him a new one-year contract.
Will see red
Olof Mellberg has been waging a one-man crusade against stereotypes of the laid-back Scandinavian for years now. If he's not arguing with referees or upending opponents, he's brawling with his own team-mates on the training pitch.
A warm welcome to
Nigel Reo-Coker, an energetic goalscoring midfielder who may or may not have really wanted to play for Arsenal.
Fans would nominate for eviction
Stilian Petrov started well last season but faded badly. If he doesn't get his act together from the get-go, expect Villa Park en masse to encourage him to do one.
Heading for Hollywood
Reo-Coker had a reputation at West Ham for being flash. Mention Baby Bentleys to him and he goes all moody - he can clearly do the Hollywood diva thing, no problem.
We know what they did this summer
Agbonlahor was meant to play for England in the European Under-21s but "couldn't be reached" ... Berger got lost twice in Villa's new sprawling training ground.


THE MANAGER: MARTIN O'NEILL
Learned at the knee of...
O'Neill picked up many habits from Brian Clough, such as fostering a strong team spirit and taking his favourite midfielders from club to club with him. He thankfully didn't pick up the whisky thing though.
How he likes to play
O'Neill likes to keep it compact and tight at the back. It's basic stuff but it's caused Milan Baros to flounce off, so it's been reaping dividends so far.
Media handling
Excellent: the only BBC Sport pundit to have talked any sense since 1961.


LAST SEASON
Premiership 11th
Points per gamev top 4 0.25 v the rest 1.53
FA Cup 3rd round
Carling Cup 4th round
League discipline Y47 R1
Top scorer Agbonlahor 9
Fair play league 2nd


THE FACTS
Ground Villa Park, Trinity Road, Birmingham B6 6HE
Getting there Aston and Witton stations are an easy walk. Bus No7 from city centre
Switchboard 0871 423 8100
Capacity 43,000
Away allocation 3,000
Ticket prices £15-35
Ticket office 0871 423 8101
Disabled facilities 0871 423 8101
Club shop0871 423 8107
Official websitewww.avfc.co.uk
Title odds 250-1
Relegation odds 14-1
----
Birmingham City


THE CLUBNickname
The Blues.
Nickname should be
Hong Kong Bluey.
Bankrolled by
Carson Ka-Shing Yeung has spelt ka-ching for the club, investing in a 29.9% share. Before accumulating £150m from gas and electronics he trained as a hairdresser; he's clearly chosen not to offer his services to best bud Steve McManaman. Steve Bruce may note he sacked the manager of Hong Kong Rangers for ignoring his "advice".
How they'll do
Yeung hopes to reach the Champions League and build an international club but they'll need more from a posse of goal-shy strikers to which Garry O'Connor has been added.
Nightmare on Memory Lane
The 16-year exodus from the top division between 1986 and 2002 was miserable, and so was the televised 7-0 record defeat at home to Liverpool in the FA Cup in March 2006. They might blame these agonies on a curse inflicted when St Andrew's was built on a Gypsy camp, as if anyone believes that.Fine them £5.5m for...
Changing the design of their first-team shirt every single season. They've not kept the same kit for consecutive seasons since 1984-85. What is worse, none of them has looked any good either, especially not this new 70s retro one.
Big in...
Sweden, where a supporters' website has a photo of Bruce's pained expression juxtaposed with the caption "SILLY SEASON". It may correspond to a frantic summer of transfer gossip but just wait until the action gets under way.
On the road they'd be...
Police car: associated with the words "flashy" and "blue" this is guaranteed to make plenty of noise but you'll soon get used to the amount of wailing in pursuit of justice. Yes, they have pace but look a little closer and you'll see just how much of their time they spend chasing others. Hope to put up a decent defence but some will find the blue line to be a little thin.


THE PLAYERS
Answer to McClaren's prayers
England always wanted their own Patrick Vieira. Fabrice Muamba, born in Congo, certainly has the requisite "telescopic" legs to fill that role. After making his move from Arsenal permanent for £4m, the England Under-19 captain is ready to boss some top midfielders.
Underrated achiever
Not only is Stephen Kelly a workaholic right-back, he is also courting an Irish lass who is an economics graduate and a model. Yes, a footballer going out with a girl with beauty and brains.
Will see red
Last summer's big signing Cameron Jerome announced his arrival on opening day by coming on as a sub and, five minutes later, elbowing Colchester's Karl Duguid to earn an early bath.
A warm welcome to
Energetic Juventus and France midfielder Olivier Kapo explained his decision not to stay at his loan club: "Levante were only fighting to avoid relegation and I want a club with more ambition." Despite these words, he's landed at St Andrew's.
Fans would nominate for eviction
In a squad brimming with goalscorers who don't score goals, Rowan Vine is most surplus to requirements, rippling the net a grand total of once in 17 appearances.
Heading for Hollywood
The young Swede Sebastian Larsson plays in the same position and has the same set-piece deadliness as Beckham, and also has his catwalk-ready looks for good measure.
We know what they did this summer
Jerome spoke to Cardiff's Joe Ledley in Cuba and urged him to join Blues ... Daniel de Ridder starred for the victorious Dutch Under-21 team.


THE MANAGER: STEVE BRUCE
Learned at the knee of...
Fergie. Though it took him time to master the lesson about staying put at one club.
How he likes to play
Not famed for his tactical prowess, he sets his team out in a 4-4-2 formation and demands the attitude he brought to the pitch: few frills, full of fight and, if all else fails, a timely set-piece goal.
Media handling
Has a tendency to say "were" when he means "our" but he's genial and rarely looks down his nose at inquisitors. Probably just as well.


LAST SEASON
Championship 2nd
Points per game v Championship top 4 2.33 v the rest 1.80
FA Cup 4th round v Carling Cup 4th round
League discipline Y69 R8
Top scorer McSheffrey 14


THE FACTS
Ground St Andrew's, Birmingham B9 4NH
Getting there Buses direct from New Street or take a train from Snow Hill to Bordesley. By car leave the M6 at junction six and follow signs from the city centre.
Switchboard 0871 226 1875
Capacity 30,009
Away allocation 1,000-2,800
Ticket prices £19-35
Ticket office 0871 226 1875
Disabled facilities 0871 226 1875
Club shop 0121 633 0444
Official website www.blues.premiumtv.co.uk
Title odds 2,500-1
Relegation odds Evens
----
Blackburn Rovers


THE CLUBNickname
Rovers.
Nickname should be
Skodas. Solid if unspectacular in their early days, a reputation enhanced by heavy investment and aided in recent times by expert foreign help.
Bankrolled by
The Rovers board are making eyes at a new sugar daddy to fill the comfortable slippers of dear old Uncle Jack. The 30-year-old US businessman Daniel Williams, born in Lytham St Annes and a lifelong Blackburn fan, may be only just out of short trousers but he is expected to head up a proposed £50m takeover.
How they'll do
There is no reason why Blackburn cannot improve slightly on last season's 10th place and earn a Uefa Cup spot so long as they hang on to their red-hot South African striker Benni McCarthy.Nightmare on Memory Lane
March 25, 1882 was the greatest day of shame as the hardmen from Lancashire got biffed in the FA Cup final by perfumed dandies Old Etonians. Oddly, not even their supporters' catchy song could lift them: "All hail, ye gallant Rover lads, Etonians thought you were but cads."
Fine them £5.5m for...
Being great big bullies. Rovers received more red cards than anyone else last season. As Arsène Wenger said: "You can't be a dreamer at Blackburn."
Big in...
Singapore. OK, big might be stretching it but what the optimistically titled Blackburn Rovers FC Singapore Supporters' Community (BRFCSSC) lack in numbers, they more than make up for in passion. All eight of them.
On the road they'd be...
Wallace and Gromit's Were-Rabbit Anti-Pesto Swat Car
Growing from humble, northern roots this machine, combined with a little cunning, can assist with the elimination of dangerous and seemingly better equipped opponents. Their no-nonsense capers can usually be relied on to inspire hilarity among viewers.


THE PLAYERS

Answer to McClaren's prayers
Matt Derbyshire has already scored at Wembley for the Under-21s in a friendly against Italy - and further underlined his senior credentials by missing a penalty in the epic shoot-out against Holland in the semi-finals of the Under-21 Championship.
Underrated achiever
Ryan Nelsen has a friend in Mark Hughes, who signed him from DC United in January 2005 and made him captain almost straight away. Nelsen had no trouble adapting to the ethos at Ewood Park: being a Kiwi he's always up for a ruck.
Will see red
Surprisingly Rovers' least disciplined player last season, David Bentley picked up 10 yellow cards and one red. But then he learned all he knows about discipline from his days at Arsenal.
A warm welcome to
Rovers have brought in a top keeper in Gunnar Nielsen, a 20-year-old prospect considered the best young keeper in his country. To put that in context, the population of the Faroe Islands is roughly half that of Blackburn.
Fans would nominate for eviction
Most Rovers fans were disappointed when hunting with dogs was banned, as it closed another option for chasing Fox in the Box Francis Jeffers out of town.
Heading for Hollywood
Robbie Savage's blond hair, year-round tan and glowing teeth are always going to open doors in Tinseltown.
We know what they did this summer
Robbie Savage tried to flog his Lamborghini Murcielago in the Auto Trader, a snip at £159,995 ... Brad Friedel schooled the next generation of soccerball stars at summer camp in Cleveland.


THE MANAGER: MARK HUGHES
Learned at the knee of...
At Old Trafford Sir Alex Ferguson gave Hughes a masterclass in how to blame a poor result on the opposition.
How he likes to play
Not like Barcelona. "Cesc Fábregas asked me if I had played for Barcelona," said Hughes, after his team held Arsenal in the FA Cup. "I said 'yes'. He said: 'That wasn't Barcelona football, was it?'"
Media handling
Retains the menace for which he was famous as a player - impressive when your first name is actually Leslie.


LAST SEASON
Premiership 10th
Points per game v top 4 0.25 v the rest 1.60
Uefa Cup Last 32
FA Cup semi-finals
Carling Cup 3rd round
League discipline Y77 R5
Top scorer McCarthy 17
Fair play league 20th


THE FACTS

Ground Ewood Park, Blackburn, Lancashire BB2 4JF
Getting there Blackburn station about 11⁄2 miles away. Buses 3, 3A, 3B, 46, 346 to Ewood Park
Switchboard 08701 113232
Capacity 31,367
Away allocation 2,000+
Ticket prices £25-£35
Ticket office 08701 123456
Disabled facilities 01254 296217
Club shop 0870 042 3875
Official website www.rovers.co.uk
Title odds 500-1
Relegation odds 20-1
----

Bolton Wanderers


THE CLUBNickname
The Trotters.
Nickname should be
The Hoofers.
Bankrolled by
Fiery Phil Gartside is chairman but majority shareholder Ed Davies controls the purse strings. Isle of Man-based Davies made his wad with Strix, the "world's leading manufacturer of controls and cordless interfaces for kettles and a wide range of other water-boiling appliances". Hold on, what other water-boiling appliances are there?
How they'll do
So much depends on Little Sam's ability to step into Big Sam's oversized boots and work the same magic. Summer signings have been underwhelming and a bottom-half finish - their first since 2003 - is on the cards.
Nightmare on Memory Lane
The extra-time relegation play-off defeat by Aldershot in May 1987 that sent the club into the Fourth Division.Fine them £5.5m for...
Their infuriating habit of signing players who appear past it, have a reputation for troublemaking or are entirely unknown to anyone else in the football world, then proving the naysayers wrong.
Big in...
Norway. The Tjodalyng-based supporters club has 150 members and Henrik Pedersen is named as their president. The utility man's departure from the Reebok this summer was reported on their website as "Pedersen ferdig i Bolton!" [Pedersen finished at Bolton!], making the Norwegian Trotters perhaps the only group of people to think that news worthy of an exclamation mark.
On the road they'd be...
Dinky Toy: here we can clearly see a Little replica of something Big that was known to get the job done very effectively. But, though it looks the part from afar and the familiarity will at first be rather comforting, you have to feel that the performance will not be the same at this size. If the going gets tough, you can easily see the wheels coming off.


THE PLAYERS
Answer to McClaren's prayers
English youngsters are thin on the ground at the Reebok but Danny Guthrie has joined on loan from Liverpool to swell the ranks to one. Guthrie impressed at Southampton last season and will have the attention of McClaren's lieutenant Lee.
Underrated achiever
Kevin Davies is a much maligned figure but as a lone striker he is the ideal package: quick and strong, and comfortable with his back to goal or chasing balls over the top. Shame he's forced wide by Nicolas Anelka's arrival.
Will see red
No shortage here. El-Hadji Diouf, Ivan Campo and Davies are all "combative" while Kevin Nolan's hilarious screaming flounce at Ewood Park in October (search for "Nolan loses it" on YouTube) was one of last season's disciplinary highlights.
A warm welcome to
Gavin McCann will take some passion to the club: his father and grandfather were big Wanderers fans.
Fans would nominate for eviction
Nicky Hunt has made well over 100 appearances for Wanderers but is seen as the beneficiary of the Sams' collective inability to buy a decent right-back.
Heading for Hollywood
Nicolas Anelka is probably heading somewhere. The stereotypical moody Frenchman is a Tinseltown stalwart: step forward the neighbour of Gary Neville in Manchester's "Celebrity Towers".
We know what they did this summer
Hunt DJed at Bolton nightclub The Bar ... Abdoulaye Meite joined the National Blood Service in urging us to give blood ... Anelka flew the squad and backroom staff out to Morocco for his wedding.


THE MANAGER: SAMMY LEE
Learned at the knee of...
Allardyce's shadow obviously looms large but he has also been a key part of the recent England set-up. Oh dear.
How he likes to play
Big Sam stuck to a 4-5-1/4-3-3 hybrid with a deep-lying midfielder and a lone striker supported by two wide forwards. Little Sam is keener on 4-4-2.
Media handling
Calm and sensible, at odds with his excitable touchline persona. Will also deign to give post-match interviews to Match of the Day.


LAST SEASON
Premiership 7th
Points per game v top 4 0.88 v the rest 1.63
FA Cup 4th round
Carling Cup 3rd round
League discipline Y84 R4
Top scorer Anelka 11
Fair play league 19th


THE FACTS
Ground Reebok Stadium, Burnden Way, Lostock, Bolton BL6 6JW
Getting there Horwich Parkway BR serves stadium with regular trains from Bolton's main station
Switchboard 01204 673 673
Capacity 28,101
Away allocation 1,000-3,600
Ticket prices £21-£39
Ticket office 0871 871 2932
Club shop 01204 673 650
Official website www.bwfc.co.uk
Title odds 500-1
Relegation odds 6-1
----
Chelsea


THE CLUBNickname
The Blues.
Nickname should be
The Blue Meanies.
Bankrolled by
The Russian workers who sold their shares in the country's vast privatised energy resources to Roman Abramovich for a handful of beads and a shot of vodka.
How they'll do
Second is nowhere. Most of the summer signings came for nothing and have the look of squad players just as only fringe players have been allowed to leave. The message is that last year's squad was good enough to win the league and, but for injuries and in-fighting, should have done so. A spine of Petr Cech, John Terry, Michael Essien and Didier Drogba is not a bad base but the latter two (plus Mikel John Obi and Salomon Kalou) are set to be heading off to the African Nations Cup in January. And right-back still looks an unresolved problem. The addition of Roman's pal Avram Grant as director of football could help smooth off-field misunderstandings - but probably won't.
Nightmare on Memory Lane
On May 7 1983 Chelsea faced Bolton at Burnden Park in what was effectively a play-off for relegation to the Third Division. Clive Walker's last-minute winner saved the day. Twenty-two years later two goals from Frank Lampard at Bolton won the league.Fine them £5.5m for...
Every use of the phrase "global brand".
Big in...
Gibraltar. The late Ronnie Scott, formerly of the official supporters' club on the Rock, co-wrote It's a Heartache for gravel-voiced Welsh songstress Bonnie Tyler.
On the road they'd be...
Stephen King's 'Christine': a snarling, menacing devil of an automobile. Power, speed, fury - it's like something from a horror movie. But for all that you kind of have to admire the single- minded approach to getting the job done. Many who come up against it simply freeze in the headlights and are mowed down; others take great pleasure in emerging from an encounter unscathed.


THE PLAYERS
Answer to McClaren's prayers
Scott Sinclair. The 18-year-old left-winger scored a blinding FA Cup goal on loan at Plymouth and impressed when given a first-team chance. "We know the melon we have," was Mourinho's sage verdict.
Underrated achiever
One-time Dutch wannabe Kalou was a bit-part player last season but scored nine times, including a last-minute winner at Watford.
Will see red
Plumbing enthusiast Glen Johnson once got himself sent off for throwing the ball away in the 90th minute of a 4-0 win over Lazio. An accident waiting to happen.
A warm welcome to
Florent Malouda. At £13.5m the only cash signing, the former Lyon winger is a World Cup finalist and France's player of the year, with experience of providing crosses for Drogba. However, his Crazy Frog goal celebration could soon grate.
Fans would nominate for eviction
Michael Ballack. Proof that, in Bosmans as in life, nothing comes for free. Strutting on-field demeanour suggests: "Do you know who I am?"
Heading for Hollywood
They all did. Chelsea staged their pre-season in LA but only whey-faced Stamford Bridge misfit Andriy Shevchenko has the silicone-enhanced model wife to pull off the Tinseltown lifestyle properly.
We know what they did this summer
It was all about weddings at Chelsea. Terry had Lionel Ritchie crooning for him at Blenheim Palace ... Arjen Robben released doves in Groningen ... while former Blue Dan Petrescu laid on fireworks and seven courses at a Romanian mansion. For Lampard, "nothing happened, OK?"


THE MANAGER: JOSE MOURINHO
Learned at the knee of...
Got his break making sense of Bobby Robson's witterings at Barcelona but management was in his blood: his father Felix coached several Portuguese clubs.
How he likes to play
Under pressure to produce more than gritty 1-0 wins, Mourinho is promising a return to wingers but has hinted that he could still play two strikers. So there is hope for Shevchenko.
Media handling
God's gift to journalism. Loathe him or hate him, he does give good quote.


LAST SEASON
Premiership 2nd
Points per game v top 4 1.17 v the rest 2.38
Champions Lg semi-finals
FA Cup winners
Carling Cup winners
League discipline Y64 R4
Top scorer Drogba 20
Fair play league 14th


THE FACTS

Ground Stamford Bridge, Fulham Road, London SW6 1HS
Getting there Fall out of Fulham Broadway station (District line) and it's in front of you. Buses 11, 143, 28, 211, 391, 414, 424
Switchboard 0870 300 2322
Capacity 42,055
Away allocation 2,000-3,000
Ticket prices £35-£65
Ticket office 0870 300 2322
Disabled facilities 020 7915 1950
Club shop 0870 300 1212
Official website www.chelseafc.com
Title odds 6-4
Relegation odds 2,000-1

-----
Derby County

THE CLUBNickname
The Rams.
Nickname should be
The Lambs (to the slaughter).
Bankrolled by
Lifelong fan Peter "The Great" Gadsby took control of the club in April 2006 having made his millions developing property. Yet to make a real impact, unless you count clearing debts of £52m, restoring ownership of Pride Park to the club and building a promotion team two years ahead of his three-year schedule.
How they'll do
They start the season in seventh, just outside the Uefa Cup places. They'll be delighted if they finish it in 17th, just outside the relegation places. To achieve this they'll need their little 'n' large strikers Robert Earnshaw and Steve Howard to click, young midfielders David Jones and Giles Barnes to stand tall and their creaking back four to cope with Premiership pace. It won't be easy.
Nightmare on Memory Lane
1898 was dismal: not only did they lose the FA Cup final to Nottingham Forest but the honour-laden baseball team they shared ground and name with was disbanded.Fine them £5.5m for...
Letting the club mascot Rammy charge £12.99 for a DVD in which he reads Aesop's Fables in the countryside. Or for contributing to Leeds' downfall by selling them Seth Johnson for £7.5m and buying him back for nowt. On second thoughts...
Big in...
A German supporters' website advises fans to "buy NFL tickets to see the Rams (USA) try to recapture their championship form". Nothing about the Rams (UK) recapturing their own Championship form, though.
On the road they'd be... G-Whiz electric car: ideal for the more frugal owner: this can run with minimal investment. But you worry about its ability to show stamina and pace over a long distance alongside more high-powered vehicles. We don't want to knock its arrival on the scene, just be aware that it might struggle to keep up.


THE PLAYERS
Answer to McClaren's prayers
At 18 Barnes is so gifted he once won a game of Connect 4 in three moves. Speedy and skilful, he could be the creative spark England seek.
Underrated achiever
Darren Moore helped Derby keep plenty of clean sheets last season while ensuring his opponents' shirts were never whiter than white at the end of a game.
Will see red
Howard, the old-fashioned No9 who last season did everything but obey the law, using his bulk to commit nearly twice as many fouls as any other player in the Championship. His idol is Alan Shearer.
A warm welcome to
Earnshaw is the club's record signing at £3.5m and will impress fans if he cartwheels 15 times this season; but tough-tackling defender Andy Todd, son of the Rams legend Colin, is the new local hero.
Fans would nominate for eviction
Midfielder Bob Malcolm, who endeared himself to Celtic fans by writing FTP next to an autograph in 2004, and endeared himself to Derby fans by buying a Rangers season ticket on arrival at his new club.
Heading for Hollywood
Canadian Paul Peschisolido is his country's football icon yet is still overshadowed by his power-hungry wife, Karren Brady. Remind you of anyone? Sadly Pesch has left for Luton, so Michael Johnson will have to fill the void: he was named sexiest Jamaican footballer by GQ - in 2001.
We know what they did this summer
Stephen Bywater trailed Ricky Hatton to Vegas but, unlike Wayne Rooney, had to make do with the cheap seats ... Moore planned to climb Mount Sinai with Linvoy Primus but pulled out due to the play-offs.


THE MANAGER: BILLY DAVIES
Learned at the knee of...
Craig Brown at Preston, now here at Derby.
How he likes to play
His team won a league-high 12 games last season by a binary scoreline. He'll want his big, bruising stoppers to bully opponents and hope his strikers battle hard enough to nick the odd goal.
Media handling
Resembles Sir Alex Ferguson circa 1989 in looks and expression. Likes to raise his right arm in recognition of his fans and extend his middle finger in recognition of his critics.


LAST SEASON
Championship: 3rd
Points per game v Championship top 4 0.50 v the rest 2.03
FA Cup 5th round
Carling Cup 2nd round
League discipline Y84 R1
Top scorer Howard 16


THE FACTS
Ground Pride Park Stadium, Derby DE24 8XL
Getting there A 15min walk from Derby station or a shuttle bus runs from the city centre. If driving from the north use M1 junction 28 and head south on the A38. From the south use M1 junction 25 and take the A50
Switchboard 0870 444 1884
Capacity 33,597
Away allocation Up to 3,300
Ticket prices £29-£44
Ticket office 0870 444 1884
Disabled facilities01332 667 531 (Keith Marson)
Club shop 01332 667513
Official website www.dcfc.co.uk
Title odds 2,500-1
Relegation odds 1-2
-----

Everton


THE CLUBNickname
The Blues suffices for most, although the Toffees is used by hacks after an easy pun.
Nickname should be
The Kirkby Town Follies, in honour of the CEO Keith Wyness's plan to move the club into an Asbo-dome groundshare with Tesco in an overspill area outside the city and which he tells the fans is the Plan A option to which there is no Plan B.
Bankrolled by
Bill Kenwright, who made money from putting bums on theatre seats. Robert Earl, the founder of Planet Hollywood and worth £290m, has bought a 23% stake for around £9m but the only thing he has brought to the club so far is Sly Stallone for a photocall at the Reading game.
How they'll do
Anywhere between fourth and 14th depending on their Uefa Cup antics. Given the meagre resources, key players like Mikel Arteta and Tim Cahill must stay fit.
Nightmare on Memory Lane
After elimination from the Champions League by Villarreal in August 2005, they dropped into the Uefa Cup and walked off at half-time of a match at Rapid Bucharest at 1-1. They left with a 5-1 thrashing.
Fine them £5.5m for...
For failing to buy an extensive collection of memorabilia including some of Dixie Dean's medals. Everton have six months to come up with £800,000 otherwise it will be broken up by an auction house - with Liverpool FC in the front row to buy ledgers pertaining to their early days.
Big in...
Russia, where Andrey has "some photos". "Soon I will send them!" His website provides up-to-date profiles of Kevin Kilbane, Richard Wright and Big Dunc.
On the road they'd be... Royal Mail delivery van: A reassuring presence - they've been on the scene for decades and can pretty much be relied upon to deliver the goods year after year after year. But having enjoyed a period of supreme dominance it has started to acknowledge that some rival outfits are better resourced and able to promise more impressive results these days. Strikers have tended to steal the limelight in recent times.


THE PLAYERS
Answer to McClaren's prayers
James Vaughan would have been close if he carried on as he finished in May but a dislocated shoulder in a friendly at Preston means he will have to make a late run for a place in the Everton team.
Underrated achiever
Lee Carsley, 33, dallied with Wigan and had a medical there in May, so secured an improved contract offer for 12 months. Knits the midfield together and stops flair opponents running through the side.
Will see red
Tim Cahill gets as many yellow cards as goals each season: that's often double figures for both.
A warm welcome to
Phil Jagielka, a £4m signing from Sheffield United and £4m more than he cost when he signed as a schoolboy only to be released in 1997. Played across the back and middle last season and kept a clean sheet in 34 minutes as a deputy goalkeeper in the Blades' shock win over Arsenal.
Fans would nominate for eviction
The lightweight forward James McFadden has racked up nine goals in four years despite being relatively prolific for Scotland. Patience is wearing thin.
Heading for Hollywood
The overweight midfielder Andy van der Meyde would fit in well in a league which is a clearing house for has-beens who play at walking pace. One snag: like his more celebrated countryman Dennis Bergkamp, he is reluctant to fly.
We know what they did this summer
McFadden got married in Scotland (James Beattie came along for the nuptials) ... Joseph Yobo spent time at home in Nigeria working with his foundation to help disadvantaged children get a start in life.


THE MANAGER: DAVID MOYES
Learned at the knee of...
Has a line into Sir Alex Ferguson, which is just as well given some of the characters he served under: John Beck for one.
How he likes to play
Was loudly booed against Spurs last season after an attempt to sit on a 1-1 draw backfired. Has since shown a refreshing inclination to play 4-4-2, even in away games.
Media handling
Comes across as fair-minded and knowledgeable, almost as if he's being interviewed for a better job.


LAST SEASON
Premiership6th Points per game v top 4 1.13 v the rest 1.53
FA Cup 3rd round
Carling Cup 4th round
League discipline Y67 R2
Top scorer Johnson 11
Fair play league 15th


THE FACTS
Ground Goodison Park, Liverpool L4 4EL
Getting there Kirkdale station (served by Liverpool Central) is a mile from the ground
Switchboard 0870 442 1878
Capacity 40,569
Away allocation 1,800-3,000
Ticket prices £28-£34
Ticket office 0870 442 1878
Disabled facilities 0870 442 1878
Club shop 0870 442 1878
Official website www.evertonfc.com
Title odds 250-1
Relegation odds 20-1
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Fulham

THE CLUBNickname
The Cottagers.
Nickname should be
The Swanky Padders. References to quaint country dwellings may have been all well and good in the days of the Tooting Popular Front, but modern-day Fulham need a name that more accurately reflects their SW6 des-res location.
Bankrolled by
Mohamed Al Fayed has owned the club since 1997. He has ploughed a fortune into trying to establish it as a top-10 club. "Commercial success is not the spur," he says. "Money is not the objective." That's just as well, isn't it?
How they'll do
Lawrie Sanchez reckons his policy of buying players with English experience (preferably from Northern Ireland) will see them at least equal their highest Premiership finish of ninth: "My job is to push maybe higher." After last season's late escape, it might be better if he started with survival and went from there.Nightmare on Memory Lane
February 2 1996 was the lowest ebb for Fulham. In the fourth tier they lost 2-1 to the bottom side Torquay to slump to 91st in the league. The next season they were promoted behind the champions, Wigan.
Fine them £5.5m for...
Having such a weird stadium. Much of Craven Cottage remains a Grade II-listed relic. All could be forgiven were it not that there is a red-brick house, complete with white wooden balcony and chimneys, in one of its corners.
Big in...
If all 890 FulhamUSA fans went along to the same home game, they would make up more than 4% of the average gate.
On the road they'd be...
World Rally Championship Subaru Impreza; it might look just like a compact operation tucked down an average city street but don't be fooled. Though its exterior may be almost unchanged, considerable investment has equipped this car with an impressive engine. Overseas funding made people sit up and take notice but in recent times there have been issues


THE PLAYERS
Answer to McClaren's prayers
Liam Rosenior would definitely fit in with Mac's down-to-earth outlook: he enjoys nothing more than Scrabble, Question Time and a mug of cocoa before bed.
Underrated achiever
Moritz Volz. Flickered briefly on the radar after scoring the 15,000th Premiership goal and earning the nickname "15,000 Volz", and for auctioning the contents of his home for charity.
Will see red
Papa Bouba Diop is likely to be the worst miscreant, providing he can stay injury-free long enough to get a head of steam up.
A warm welcome to
Easily the least surprising transfer since records began, David Healy is almost single-handedly responsible for Sanchez's enhanced managerial reputation, following his goalscoring form for Northern Ireland. If he reproduces anything like his international form, his £1.5m move is going to look like a bargain.
Fans would nominate for eviction
Franck Queudrue. Actually the tough tackling, talking and hair-styling defender nominated himself. However, it is all very well criticising the new manager for his tactics in the hope of manoeuvring an exit but it pays to check the potential interest in one's services first. Franck is still waiting by the phone.
Heading for Hollywood
Brian McBride. Having appeared in the 2003 swimsuit edition of Sports Illustrated with his wife Dina in 2003, "Bake" McBride is used to being caught on camera with his trousers down.
We know what they did this summer
Volz took time off studying for his biology A-level by watching tennis at Wimbledon.


THE MANAGER: LAWRIE SANCHEZ
Learned at the knee of...
Joe Kinnear during his playing days with the Wimbledon Crazy Gang. But with a degree in management science under his belt, Sanchez is very much his own man.
How he likes to play
Favours the long ball over any other kind, which has caused at least one total football disciple, Claus Jensen, to leave the club in disgust.
Media handling
Tries to remain aloof and is able to remain level-headed when the questions get tricky.


LAST SEASON
Points per game v top 4 0.88 v the rest 1.07
FA Cup 5th round
Carling Cup 2nd round
League discipline Y58 R3
Top scorer McBride 9
Fair play league 9th


THE FACTS

Ground Craven Cottage, Stevenage Road, London SW6 6HH
Getting there
Putney Bridge (District line) is 10mins away by day, longer by night when Bishop's Park is closed
Switchboard 0870 442 1222
Capacity 22,500
Away allocation 3,000- 3,500 plus neutral area
Ticket prices £25-£50
Ticket office 0870 442 1234
Disabled facilities 0870 442 1222
Club shop 0870 442 1223
Official website www.fulhamfc.com
Title odds 2,500-1
Relegation odds 7-4
----
Liverpool

THE CLUBNickname
The Reds.
Nickname should be
The In-the-reds. Check out those loans!
Bankrolled by
US billionaires George Gillett Jr and Tom Hicks, big in leveraged buy-outs. They're both chummy with Dubya Bush, a great fit for a club whose most legendary manager saw football as he saw socialism.
How they'll do
They'll finally break that 17-year title hoodoo. A new big-name striker, a new big-money winger, another couple of holding midfiel... ah to hell with it: third again, maybe a domestic cup and another amazing how-the-hell-have-they-managed-that-playing-like-they-did-away-at-Birmingham run in Europe.
Nightmare on Memory Lane
The 90s aren't remembered fondly but, while the Souness years were dismal, they still won the FA Cup, and under Roy Evans they played some of the most aesthetically pleasing football in the Premiership era. No, ask anyone: the on-the-pitch nadir is that Michael Thomas goal in 1989.Fine them £5.5m for...
Having fans who bang on about being the best in the world, then either don't sing or put JFK obsessives to shame by claiming the club, subject of 374 million column inches per year, are criminally ignored as part of a wicked media conspiracy.
Big in...
The USA, of course. The New York LFC supporters' club sells a fine line of merchandise but you can't pay for any of it with the Queen's coin: "Colombian drug-barons have an easier time processing their ill-gotten gains through the US banks than we do with UK currency. Sorry folks!"
On the road they'd be...
Hummer: An American-inspired behemoth that has recently been making waves in Europe. It's something of a juggernaut: big, expensive and impressively shiny. Can cleverly break down anything that stands in its way - though some say that its designer has put a little too much emphasis on defence.


THE PLAYERS
Answer to McClaren's prayers
Jermaine Pennant had an up-and-down first season at Anfield but found his once-electronically-tagged feet during the final stretch of the campaign and was the only man in red who looked consistently dangerous in the European Cup final.
Underrated achiever
Steve Finnan goes about his business quietly and rarely shines but when was the last time you saw the right-back make a catastrophic mistake? Whisper it round these parts but that's consistency good enough to file him alongside Neville, G.
Will see red
Liverpool have been a pretty well-behaved bunch for years now but, if trouble's afoot, rash-tacklin' Stevie Gerrard is usually in the thick of it, standing on someone's head with both feet in mid-air.
A warm welcome to
Andriy Voronin is the least heralded Anfield signing since Sean Dundee but won't be as bad: his Bayer Leverkusen record was a respectable one-in-three.
Fans would nominate for eviction
Harry Kewell has waddled about for a total of 54 minutes in two European Cup finals and achieved little else of note. With Bolo the Clown gone, he'll get the heat now.
Heading for Hollywood
Fernando Torres has the pedigree to follow in Beckham's footsteps: he's got skill in abundance, was once idolised in Madrid and has all the haircuts in his locker.
We know what they did this summer
Gerrard got wed on the same day as Gary Neville, John Terry and Uncle Tom Cobbleigh ... Jamie Carragher phoned Talksport in a hot funk after they called him a "bottler" ... Emiliano Insúa won the World Cup (well, the U-20s one).


THE MANAGER: RAFAEL BENITEZ
Learned at the knee of...
Sir Alex once invited him to Old Trafford to show how he works, but the origins of the cross-legged touchline sit remain a mystery.
How he likes to play
Naturally conservative and not too fussed if his forwards don't score providing the midfielders chip in. Has hinted they might play a more attacking game this year but we'll believe that when we see it.
Media handling
Win or lose, plays every question with a straight bat and a chorus of "Stevie did a good game for aaaaas".


LAST SEASON
Points per game v top 4 1.00 v the rest 1.94
Champions Lg runners-up
FA Cup 3rd round
Carling Cup quarter-finals
League discipline Y43 R0
Top scorer Kuyt 12
Fair play league 4th


THE FACTS
Ground Anfield Stadium, Anfield Road, Liverpool L4 0TH
Getting there Kirkdale station is just under a mile away. Or take a bus from Sandhills
Switchboard 0151 263 2361
Capacity 45,522
Away allocation 983-3,008
Ticket prices £30-£34
Ticket office 0844 844 0844
Disabled facilities 0151 264 2320 (Emma Harrison)
Club shop 0870 600 0532
Official website www.liverpoolfc.tv
Title odds 5-1
Relegation odds 1,500-1

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Manchester City

THE CLUBNickname
The Blues.
Nickname should be
The Soap Stars. City's recent surreal history couldn't have been better scripted if it had been written by the scribes at Coronation Street or EastEnders.
Bankrolled by
Deposed billionaire Thai president Thaksin Shinawatra bought the club in July for £21.6m. Quite how he made his fortune and on whose backs it was made is currently the subject of legal action in Bangkok, somewhere Thaksin is unlikely to see for a while as he refuses to return while Thailand is under military control.
How they'll do
Sven-Goran Eriksson has publicly cited Middlesbrough as the example for City to follow after two seasons under Stuart Pearce spent flirting with relegation. Privately Sven will surely be aiming for a Uefa Cup place and a decent Cup run.Nightmare on Memory Lane
Saturday December 19, 1998: York City 2 Manchester City 1. The Blues sank to 12th in the third tier, the lowest league position in City history. A 2-1 home defeat in the first round of the Auto Windscreens Shield 11 days earlier against Mansfield in front of 3,007 fans wasn't too clever, either.
Fine them £5.5m for...
Sven-Goran Eriksson attempting to prevent Steve McClaren selecting Micah Richards for a meaningless friendly. The boot's on the other foot now...
Big in...
Westminster. Junior government ministers Ivan Lewis and Paul Goggins, both City season-ticket holders, were founder members of the Houses of Parliament branch of the City Supporters Club.
On the road they'd be...
John Lennon's Austin Princess: used to reverberate to the sound of witty people from the north-west imagining a world where everyone was happy, but its progress of late has been funereal. Now all the talk is of how great yesterday was. Recently sold to a wealthy investor from the Far East following a (very) public auction.


THE PLAYERS
Answer to McClaren's prayers
Locally born midfielder Michael Johnson, 19, forced his way into the first team last season, playing 10 matches, and has reportedly attracted the interest of Liverpool. His squad number last season was 33; this season he'll be wearing 6.
Underrated achiever
The critical element of City's support regard Jihai Sun as versatile because he can play equally badly in any position. More knowledgeable observers recognise the honest reliability of an unglamorous player who rarely lets the side down.
Will see red
Joey Barton's departure to Newcastle will slash the yellow-card count. Paul Dickov will continue his recent record of more cards than goals, while Michael Ball is also no stranger to the yellow card.
A warm welcome to
After last season's embarrassing goal drought, hopes are high for £8.8m Italian under-21 striker Rolando Bianchi. He'll hope not to follow in the Premiership footsteps of his compatriots Andrea Silenzi (Forest), Michele Padovano (Palace), Corrado Grabbi (Blackburn) and Bernardo Corradi (City).
Fans would nominate for eviction
Danny Mills, one of Kevin Keegan's many failed signings, who managed a mere 10 minutes for City last season.
Heading for Hollywood
Dickov is married to Jan, a former air-hostess, making her the nearest thing to a glamorous City wag.
We know what they did this summer
Richard Dunne got married but the nuptials failed to attract the Hello! snappers ... Didi Hamann went larging it on the Dubai dance floors.


THE MANAGER: SVEN-GORAN ERIKSSON
Learned at the knee of...
Hans Backe, a 55-year-old Swede much admired by Eriksson - and now his assistant at City.
How he likes to play
Normally a 4-4-2 man, Sven could still spring a surprise or two, as he showed when Theo Walcott found himself on the plane to Germany in 2006.
Media handling
Sven said little of note as England manager, except to promise that things would get better. They didn't. He'll be quite at home here.


LAST SEASON
Premiership 14th
Points per game v top 4 0.25 v the rest 1.27
FA Cup quarter-finals
Carling Cup 2nd round
League discipline Y59 R4
Top scorer Barton 6
Fair play league 17th


THE FACTS
Ground City of Manchester Stadium, Manchester M11 3FF
Getting there A 20min walk from Manchester Piccadilly. Decent signage in the city for cars
Switchboard 0870 062 1894
Capacity 48,000
Away allocation 3,000
Ticket prices £28-£38
Ticket office 0870 062 1894
Disabled facilities 0161 438 7747
Club shop 0870 062 1894 (ext 7)
Official website www.mcfc.co.uk
Title odds 750-1
Relegation odds 7-2
------
Manchester United



THE CLUBNickname
The Red Devils.
Nickname should be
The Red Revels: you're never sure what you're going to get next.
Bankrolled by
Those good-guy Glazers, who don't get criticised any more because they coughed up a wee down payment for Nani and Anderson. Malcolm saved all the money he should have been spending on haircuts from the age of 14, thus acquiring the most deviant sideburns in the world as well as hundreds of millions of pounds.
How they'll do
Having spent around £50m to improve a title-winning side, the only way is sideways. But the improved squad will mess with the continuity that served them so well last season and allow Sir Alex Ferguson's rotation-addicted Mr Hyde side to emerge from a year's hibernation.Nightmare on Memory Lane
Black Saturday - December 9 1989 - when Ferguson dropped Mark Hughes, watched United lose 2-1 at home to Crystal Palace in front of a crowd of 33,514, a few of whom unfurled a banner which read "Three years of excuses, ta-ra Fergie" and then got home to see United drawn away to Brian Clough's Forest in the FA Cup third round.
Fine them £5.5m for...
Fergie's excruciating, lagged-grandad-at-a-wedding celebratory dance. Gary Neville's moustache. Gary Neville.
Big in...
The US of A. "By becoming a member of the United States Supporters' Club you'll get 'insider' status with exclusive member benefits, ticket privileges, partner sweepstakes and" - you'll like this - "a USA Branch Membership Bumper Sticker".
On the road they'd be...
Rolls-Royce: The biggest name in the game. Only the very best international engineering is allowed into this high-prestige vehicle. Considered by many at home and abroad to be the very embodiment of British success, a perception that persists despite the fact that it was sold to foreign owners.


THE PLAYERS
Answer to McClaren's prayers
Danny Simpson, a zesty defender who impressed on loan at Sunderland last season, could make Euro 2008 if England's first 174 right-backs go lame.
Underrated achiever
Wes Brown, whose combination of ginger hair, sporadic shockers and a surname that rhymes with clown makes him an occasional target of abuse, is generally an outstanding defender and uncomplaining back-up for the main four.
Will see red
Paul Scholes, whose tackling was out of the daredevil school even before his horrible eye problem, usually has the bath to himself at least once a season.
A warm welcome to
Owen Hargreaves is the watercarrier Ferguson has been seeking since Roy Keane's self-inflicted departure while Anderson will continue the tradition, supposed to be proud, of South Americans at United.
Fans would nominate for eviction
Louis Saha - not for a lack of talent but because of his perceived hypochondria: he's the only man alive who could find 31 different ways to injure himself in a padded cell ... while asleep.
Heading for Hollywood
Ronaldo and demure girlfriend Gemma Atkinson, of epic arthouse soap Hollyoaks, though he's more likely to be following her there once his career hits the skids.
We know what they did this summer
Gary Neville and Michael Carrick had Wagtastic nuptials on the same day ... Wayne Rooney dribbled longingly in the direction of Ricky Hatton for 944 hours solid ... Rio Ferdinand became a father for the first time.


THE MANAGER: SIR ALEX FERGUSON
Learned at the knee of...
Jock Stein, although increasingly Ferguson seems to want to be Rinus Michels.
How he likes to play
A loose-limbed 4-1-2-3 formation (which seamlessly morphs into a rigid 4-5-1 against top-class teams.
Media handling
Fergie would rather scrape his nails down a chalkboard than deal with the Fourth Estate, though things have got better since nasty pressmen stopped spreading malicious gossip such as scorelines when United lost.


LAST SEASON

Points per game v top 4 1.33 v the rest 2.53
Champions Lg semi-finals
FA Cup runners-up
Carling Cup 4th round
League discipline Y58 R1
Top scorer Ronaldo 17
Fair play league 8th


THE FACTS

Ground Old Trafford, Sir Matt Busby Way, Manchester M16 0RA
Getting there Train and Metrolink services to ground from Piccadilly. Or park in Altrincham and get the Metrolink
Switchboard 0161 868 8000
Capacity 76,000
Away allocation 3,000-5,000
Ticket prices £25-£42
Ticket office 0870 442 1999
Disabled facilities 0845 230 1989
Club shop 0870 111 8107
Official website manutd.com
Title odds 11-8
Relegation odds 2,000-1

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------
Middlesbrough


THE CLUBNickname
Boro.
Nickname should be
The Farmers Markets. Lots of wholesome, slightly nobbly locally gathered produce on display, which most people across the nation ignore in favour of something exotic and colourful that's been flown halfway around the world such as Arsenal.
Bankrolled by
Steve Gibson, cherubic "King of Teesside" who started off as a YTS at the post office before making an estimated £85m fortune out of Bulkhaul, a company that transports "liquids, powders and gases".
How they'll do
Boro have established a recognisable modus operandi: wins in August leading to excitement about Europe, a slump over Christmas causing alarm about relegation, then a good run that puts them in Uefa Cup contention before tailing away to finish 12th. The worry is one season they'll get them in the wrong order. Many fans won't bet against it being this time.Nightmare on Memory Lane
A dismal 1985-86 season playing in front of home crowds that sometimes dropped below 5,000, relegated to the Third Division as was, the gates of Ayresome Park padlocked by the official receiver and the squad forced to train in a local park.
Fine them £5.5m for...
Massed happy clappy chanting along to dismal "(Papa's got a) Brand New Pigbag" when the team run out/score. Visiting fans now ironically mimic the whole show.
Big in...
Vantaa (Finland). "My first visit to Ayresome Park was in 1980 against Notts Forest and met the ever great Terry Cochrane," recalls one Finnish fan online. The players
On the road they'd be...
Double-decker bus: The red giant rumbles on, its design barely altering from one year to the next. Always the same route. It could, perhaps, attempt to pick up a bit more momentum but occasionally you get the impression that it's carrying a few too many passengers.


THE PLAYERS

Answer to McClaren's prayers
Adam Johnson: a fast, tricky 20-year-old left-winger who torments defenders and could just become the 1,375th player to fill that troublesome spot on the flank.
Underrated achiever
Emanuel Pogatetz. The crazed Austrian was brought in as a left-back but "Mad Dog" formed an excellent central defensive partnership with the more "cerebral" Jonathan Woodgate.
Will see red
George Boateng is not quite as quick as he was and seems to be making up for it with extra belligerence. He doubled his career tally of red cards last term.
A warm welcome to
Tuncay Sanli. A versatile Turkish international who came from Fenerbahce on a free transfer after scoring 59 goals in 154 appearances. "Brave Heart" can play as a striker, attacking midfielder or out on the right wing. Tuncay has promised to "Get Middlesbrough back into Europe". So Intertoto Cup next summer, then.
Fans would nominate for eviction
Fabio Rochemback. Hairband-wearing midfield fop who came from Barcelona and spent the past two seasons loitering about as if waiting for a bus home.
Heading for Hollywood
Robert Huth: now Arnie is running California, there's surely room for a new muscle-bound Teuton.
We know what they did this summer
Stewart Downing was named as one of the "100 most influential people in the Tees Valley" by the Middlesbrough Evening Gazette ... Lee Cattermole moved into Ray Parlour's house ... Pogatetz attended the baptism of his second child and got married in the same church.


THE MANAGER: GARETH SOUTHGATE

Learned at the knee of...
Southgate didn't get on with Steve McClaren, was infamously rude about Sven's man-management techniques and left Villa after rowing with John Gregory. What's not to like?
How he likes to play
Gaz claims to want positive football but often falls back on the defensive tactics he'd criticised McClaren for.
Media handling
Punditry spell on ITV during 2006 World Cup was notable for making viewers pine for the incisive brilliance of Robbie Earle.


LAST SEASON

Points per game v top 4 0.88 v the rest 1.30
FA Cup quarter-finals
Carling Cup 2nd round
League discipline Y65 R1
Top scorer Viduka 14
Fair play league 16th


THE FACTS

Ground Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough TS3 6RS
Getting there Walk from Middlesbrough station and follow signs to the Riverside Stadium
Switchboard 0844 499 6789
Capacity 35,100
Away allocation 4,000
Ticket prices Unavailable at time of going to press
Ticket office 0844 499 1234
Disabled facilities 0844 499 1234 (Simon McDonald)
Club shop 0844 499 2676
Official website mfc.co.uk
Title odds 1,000-1
Relegation odds 9-2

------
Newcastle United


THE CLUBNickname
The Magpies.
Nickname should be
The Starlings. Gregarious, garrulous birds that gather in vast flocks in city centres at certain times of day and make an awful lot of noise for no apparent reason.
Bankrolled by
Mike Ashley. The reclusive businessman is worth an estimated fortune of £1.9bn and currently owns all or part of Karrimor, Kangol, Millets and Blacks leisure, which is good news if Big Sam ever organises a team-building camping and hiking weekend in the Lake District.
How they'll do
The new manager is counselling patience, talking of a period of transition and pointing to long-term plans. That, plus a certain lack of urgency in the transfer market and big changes behind the scenes, suggests this will be yet another season of treading water at St James' Park.Nightmare on Memory Lane
1992: Ossie Ardiles had left a team of local youngsters including Alan Thompson, Lee Clark and Steve Watson on the brink of relegation to the Third Division and financial catastrophe. They were saved by the arrival of Kevin Keegan and a controversial late win at Leicester.
Fine them £5.5m for...
Mike Ashley managing to make Freddy Shepherd even richer by buying up his company shares.
Big in...
Jakarta, Indonesia. "Shearer sekarang sudah termasuk legenda" observes Shearyadi wisely on the Indotoonarmy website, before reminding us that Peter Beardsley "yang juga asli product Newcastle, he's true genuine Geordie". The players
On the road they'd be...
Golf buggy: Not a bad mode of transport-plenty of people have a soft spot for them-but the very latest model was brought in from Bolton and some worry that the game it's associated with is all about smacking a ball as far as possible in a great big skybound arc and then scuttling off to find out where it might have landed.


THE PLAYERS

Answer to McClaren's prayers
Steven Taylor can play at centre-half or right-back, and is surely the ideal bench-warming replacement for Jamie Carragher.
Underrated achiever
James Milner, a hardworking young winger who has impressed supporters with his effort, commitment and refusal to moan despite extreme provocation.
Will see red
The ever-reliable Joey Barton, a man who seems single-handedly to keep the anger-management industry afloat. Averaged a yellow card every 3.2 games at City and shows an impressive versatility when it comes to catching the ref's eye with everything from mass brawls, over- exuberant celebrations and bottom baring.
A warm welcome to
Mark Viduka. The pie-bothering centre- forward pretty much defines the term enigma, with performances that veer so dramatically from the listless to the sublime that fans are never sure whether to confront him angrily in the car park or release a lachrymose CD in his honour.
Fans would nominate for eviction
Albert Luque, who has made the coveted Marcellino role of overpaid invisible Iberian space-waster his own.
Heading for Hollywood
Kieron Dyer. Tyneside's Krystal quaffing King of Bling spends more money on earrings than Paris Hilton and has already appeared in one popular low-budget Euro flick alongside lovely Frank Lampard.
We know what they did this summer
Michael Owen hung out at Donington ... Joey Barton was re-bailed by police over the Dabo affair ... Obafemi Martins "escaped death by the whiskers" when his Merc was attacked by gunmen in Nigeria.


THE MANAGER: SAM ALLARDYCE

Learned at the knee of...
Jimmy Armfield and Ian Greaves. Greaves' ability to get the best out of ageing mavericks such as Frank Worthington must surely have inspired him.
How he likes to play
Traditionally favours a bustling target man, long throws and big punts up the middle.
Media handling
Refuses to speak to the BBC, which at least saves Match of the Day viewers having to put up with his chippy whingeing about match officials.


LAST SEASON

Points per game v top 4 0.88 v the rest 1.20
Uefa Cup Last 16
FA Cup 3rd round
Carling Cup quarter-finals
League discipline Y67 R1
Top scorer Martins 11
Fair play league 12th


THE FACTS

Ground St James' Park, Newcastle-upon-Tyne NE1 4ST
Getting there Walk the half-mile from Newcastle Central station or get the Metro (St James' station). Buses to Gallowgate or Haymarket
Switchboard 0191 201 8400
Capacity 52,387
Away allocation 3,000
Ticket prices £21-£62
Ticket office 0191 261 1571
Disabled facilities 0191 201 8475 (customer services)
Club shop 0191 201 8426
Official website nufc.co.uk
Title odds 100-1
Relegation odds 16-1
----
Portsmouth


THE CLUB

Nickname
Pompey.Nickname should be
Pompeii, as Fratton Park serves as a relic of how life used to be. "Play Up Pompeii!" would become a request for Frankie Howerd monologues at half-time.
Bankrolled by
Self-professed millionaire Alexandre Gaydamak put his composure to the test by pressing more than £20m into Harry Redknapp's palm and telling him to go up west and get himself something nice.
How they'll do
Last season a better strike force might have put them into Europe. Having bagged David Nugent, John Utaka and Sulley Muntari this summer, they may well find themselves in contention again this season. Or they'll revert to type and scramble muddy-kneed out of the relegation zone at the last minute. We're not brave enough to rule it out.
Nightmare on Memory Lane
It's early 1978, it's tipping down and you're stood in the Fratton End watching Pompey make the Third Division look difficult. Only the sale of your best players and the local newspaper's hampers are keeping the club afloat. Oh well, it can't get any worse, can it? As it happens, yes: seven wins in 46 outings seal relegation to the Fourth.Fine them £5.5m for...
Failing to notice, a mere 79 years after the builders downed tools, that the Milton End has no roof. And that bloke with the bell.
Big in...
Norway, where Venner av Portsmouth keep fans abreast of news like the signing of David Nugent: "It's good to sign young English players so that we don't end up like a mini Arsenal." Phew, crisis averted.
On the road they'd be...
Trotters Independent Traders: Reliant Regal It's not much to look at but this creaky old thing remains surprisingly popular due to its owner's ability to entertain, even if its driver, who sees himself as something of a wheeler-dealer, cannot always be relied upon to spot a bargain.


THE PLAYERS

Answer to McClaren's prayers
'Arry reckons new signing Martin Cranie could enjoy the same rise to fame as another former Saint, Theo Walcott.
Underrated achiever
Sol Campbell got much of the credit for Portsmouth's strength at the back last season but was regularly outshone by his central defensive partner Linvoy Primus. He just doesn't spend as much time using long words in front of journalists.
Will see red
Sulley Muntari picked up 12 yellows and three red cards at Udinese last season. "I guess sometimes I go in hard, rough and late," he explained sweetly.
A warm welcome to
Shameless goal-poacher Nugent's not proven at this level but he'll run all day long and the crowd at Fratton Park like nothing better than a trier. Where else could Benjani Mwaruwari get away with it?
Fans would nominate for eviction
When a striker scores the same number of goals as creaking defender Noe Pamarot (that'll be two), you know he's in trouble. Stand up and take a bow Lomana LuaLua - or is that too much of an effort as well?
Heading for Hollywood
It can't be long before Campbell's Prada loafers are padding along red carpets. Film cameo and trashy late-night soap under his belt? Check. Interested in the latest fashions? Check. Likes to bang on about saving the world? Ch-ching.
We know what they did this summer
Primus came over all Jamie Oliver, pestering local school kids to "eat themselves better"... David James made a lot of noise about converting his whopping great Chrysler to run on biofuel, only to have it break down four times.


THE MANAGER: HARRY REDKNAP

Learned at the knee of...
Ron Greenwood taught him a thing or two about making the most of what you've got.
How he likes to play
4-4-2 at home, packs the midfield away - but, having splurged on three strikers, he might go for a few wins on the road.
Media handling
Likes to share a joke as much as the next man, so long as the next man is Roy "Obese" Brown. "I was going to pull him off at half-time but he got a piece of orange like everyone else," he once said of Paolo Di Canio.


LAST SEASON

Points per game v top 4 1.13 v the rest 1.50
FA Cup 4th round
Carling Cup 3rd round
League discipline Y50 R1
Top scorer Kanu 10
Fair play league 10th


THE FACTS

Ground Fratton Park, Frogmore Road, Portsmouth PO4 8RA
Getting there Fratton station is a 10min walk away. Driving (and therefore having to park) is not recommended.
Switchboard 02392 731204
Capacity 20,288
Away allocation 1,200-2,000
Ticket price £37 flat rate
Ticket office 0871 230 1898
Disabled facilities 02392 731204
Club shop 0871 882 1898
Official website portsmouthfc.co.uk
Title odds 500-1
Relegation odds 12-1
----
Reading

THE CLUB

Nickname
The Royals.Nickname should be
The Upstarts.
Bankrolled by
Like all the best football chairmen, John Madejski, former owner of Auto Trader, made his fortune (estimated at £400m) selling used cars. With the Madejski Stadium, the Madejski Hotel, the John Madejski Garden at the V&A, the John Madejski Fine Rooms (an art gallery), the John Madejski Academy (a school) and the John Madejski Centre for Reputation (not sure what this could be), he prefers to keep his benevolence low-profile.
How they'll do
Steve Sidwell has gone but the Royals weren't over-reliant on the midfielder and should be fine. Whatever happens, though, expect regular references to "second season syndrome".Nightmare on Memory Lane
The move from a 22- to 20-team Premiership meant the Royals missed out on promotion in 1995 despite finishing second in the First Division. Three years later they were relegated.
Fine them £5.5m for...
Not being as excited as a toddler on Christmas morning about nearly qualifying for the Uefa Cup. Don't they know that's just about as good as it gets these days?
Big in...
People flock in their millions from all over the world to catch a glimpse of the royals in action, just not the ones that hail from Reading. Other than the now obligatory Norwegian branch, these Royals have struggled to cast their net much further than a supporters group in "The North"... wherever that might be.
On the road they'd be...
Lewis Hamilton's McLaren: Commentators have been dumbstruck by the ease with which this car coped among the elite in its debut season. They admire the refusal to be overawed by the big boys and stay on track. But some consider recent success to have been overhyped and believe the wheels might just come off.


THE PLAYERS

Answer to McClaren's prayers
Leroy Lita could be in England's plans after outshining David Nugent at the Under-21 Championship.
Underrated achiever
James Harper started all but two of the Royals' league games last season and now has the opportunity to step out of Sidwell's shadow. Socks rolled down à la Steve Claridge, Harper's energy and drive are crucial to Reading's style.
Will see red
With six yellow cards and a red in only 15 appearances (eight as substitute) last season, Andre Bikey has a youthful exuberance that regularly overflows on to the kneecaps of opposition players.
A warm welcome to
Kalifa Cissé has been brought in from Boavista and can play at the back or in midfield. He's yet another powerful presence in a physical squad.
Fans would nominate for eviction
If ever there was a club without a boo-boy, this is it, though few Royals fans would have been overly aggrieved if Seol Ki-hyun had been overcome with homesickness and demanded to stay in South Korea after their pre-season tour.
Heading for Hollywood
With the stars and stripes tattooed on his left arm, Marcus Hahnemann is clearly a patriot. How the goalkeeper would cope with the social merry-go-round, though, is unclear: he's not a big party animal, staying at home as his team-mates clubbed the night away after promotion last year.
We know what they did this summer
Graeme Murty played golf with Royals fans ... James Harper went to Las Vegas ... Nicky Shorey made his England debut, then got married the following day.


THE MANAGER: STEVE COPPELL

Learned at the knee of...
Played under Tommy Docherty but has been managing so long he's probably picked up some ideas of his own by now.
How he likes to play
The same way. Every. Single. Week. He's the anti-Tinkerman.
Media handling
Downplays everything to the point of appearing pessimistic but at least he tends to avoid platitudes and can be pretty witty on occasion, in a dry way. Just don't ask him to wax lyrical about the Uefa Cup.


LAST SEASON

Points per game v top 4 0.25 v the rest 1.77
FA Cup 5th round
Carling Cup 3rd round
League discipline Y39 R3
Top scorer Doyle 13
Fair play league 7th


THE FACTS

Ground Madejski Stadium, Reading RG2 0FL
Getting there From Reading station take the No79 shuttle bus direct to the stadium
Switchboard 0118 968 1100
Capacity 24,122
Away allocation 2,300
Ticket prices £28-£41
Ticket office 0870 999 1871
Disabled facilities 0870 999 1871
Club shop 0118 968 1234
Official website readingfc.co.uk
Title odds 500-1
Relegation odds 5-1
----
Sunderland


THE CLUB

Nickname
The Black Cats.Nickname should be
The Black Adders. Rich historical background and zany plots kept the nation amused during the 1980s, with plenty of repeats over the next two decades.
Bankrolled by
The Drumaville Consortium, a group of nine businessmen - eight Irish, one English - put together by Niall Quinn. The group includes property developers, "the UK's biggest maker of concrete frames", a travel agent and "Dublin pub supremo" Louis Fitzgerald, who is ranked as Ireland's 96th richest man, 86 places below a Mr U2.
How they'll do
Last time Sunderland came up they broke the record for the least number of points in a season with a pitiful 15. There are reasons for Wearside to be more optimistic this time but a lack of genuine big-name signings on top of bitter experience means mid-table is the best they can hope for.Nightmare on Memory Lane
March 1987. Lawrie McMenemy, then the highest-paid manager in English football who had arrived on Wearside to messianic acclaim, terminated his ill-fated reign at Roker Park with Sunderland a certainty to be relegated to the third tier for the only time in their history. "Like the Titanic, McMenemy should never have left Southampton" as the joke went.
Fine them £5.5m for...
Playing that bombastic medley of Prokofiev's Dance of the Knights and U2's Elevation before the teams run out.
Big in...
Tokyo. The superblackcats website features a "mini biography of Super Kev Phillips" in Japanese.
On the road they'd be...
Cable car: A bit of blue-sky thinking has got this project airborne but the frustrating thing for those following its fortunes is that it seems destined to spend time and energy climbing up the mountain - only to drop back down immediately. Up and down, up and down. Still, there's another chance to admire the view up here for a bit and there's clearly plenty of steel in the way it's being held together.


THE PLAYERS

Answer to McClaren's prayers
Grant Leadbitter. A young midfielder who came through the youth ranks and has represented England at Under-16, Under-17, Under-18 and Under-19 levels. His energy, commitment, crossing and shooting have led to comparisons with Steven Gerrard - a bit optimistic.
Underrated achiever
Nyron Nosworthy. Widely derided when he first arrived until a switch from right-back to centre-half transformed him. His defensive obduracy, pace, wholehearted commitment and PG Wodehouse-style name have made him a cult hero.
Will see red
Ross Wallace is proof that the Scottish production line of tricky wingers who can take care of themselves has not yet ground to a halt. Seven yellows and two reds last season is an impressive total for 21 starts.
A warm welcome to
Michael Chopra scored 22 goals for Cardiff last season but the locals will need to be convinced of his quality, not least because he's a Geordie who took too much pleasure scoring at the Stadium of Light last season.
Fans would nominate for eviction
Danny Collins. By no means a Kevin Kilbane when it comes to inviting angry ridicule but he's still the weakest link.
Heading for Hollywood
Dwight Yorke fathered a child by Jordan, dated Imogen from Big Brother and loiters round casinos. Just what LA needs now Warren Beatty has settled down.
We know what they did this summer
Kieran Richardson was embarrassed by his cousin Charley on Big Brother ... Greg Halford had "a lovely holiday in the Maldives"... Carlos Edwards's wife Teressa promoted her single How You Want It.


THE MANAGER: ROY KEANE

Learned at the knee of...
Keane served under Clough and Fergie, though Mick McCarthy was probably the biggest influence on his thinking.
How he likes to play
Keane favours slick passing and movement but has also shown he is pragmatically prepared to vary his approach to suit the situation.
Media handling
Eerily personable and charming, like a bear with a voice-over saying: "Though he may appear cuddly, in reality he is one of nature's deadliest creatures."


LAST SEASON

Points per game v Championship top 4 2.17 v the rest 1.88
FA Cup 3rd round
Carling Cup 1st round
League discipline Y61 R2
Top scorer Connolly 13


THE FACTS

Ground The Sunderland Stadium of Light, Sunderland SR5 1SU
Getting there The stadium is a 15min walk from Sunderland station. If driving, leave the A1 at the Durham/Sunderland exit and head for the town centre
Switchboard 0191 551 5000
Capacity 49,000
Away allocation 3,000
Ticket prices £20-£30
Ticket office 0845 671 1973
Disabled facilities 0191 551 5000
Club shop 0191 551 5033
Official website safc.com
Title odds 500-1
Relegation odds 4-1
----
Tottenham Hotspur


THE CLUB

Nickname
Lillywhites.Nickname should be
Lillylivers, given their nasty habit of collapsing the moment they smell silver.
Bankrolled by
Enic Ltd snaffled up a 66% stake by waving £25m under Sir Alan Sugar's nose. The company is owned by Bahamas-dwelling billionaire Joe Lewis, who makes his money in currency trading and blows it on £1m rounds of golf with Tiger Woods.
How they'll do
Spurs look the most likely to crack the top four and would gleefully clamber over Arsenal to get there but they will probably have to settle for fifth again, having splashed £16m on another striker rather than a decent left-winger. Capable of winning the Uefa Cup, though, providing their insides can take the strain this time.
Nightmare on Memory Lane
The mid-70s are not a time Tottenham fans coo over; rioting in Rotterdam brought a European ban and a shaken Bill Nicholson quit as manager. The ban was not too much of a problem, given that they failed to qualify for the next 10 years. But Nicholson's departure made room for former Gunner Terry Neill, who packed off Mike England and Martin Chivers, then skipped back up Seven Sisters Road to manage Arsenal while Spurs got relegated.Fine them £5.5m for...
Puff-chested talk of the return of the glory, glory days.
Big in...
Floyd's Bar, Brooklyn, home of NYSpurs, where there's "nothing like standing shoulder to shoulder with 40 or so fans singing at eight in the morning", apparently.
On the road they'd be...
Back to the Future DeLorean A shade of slightly besmirched white, this car yearns to return to the 1960s. Its slightly eccentric driver has produced erratically impressive performances although, given he uses only the most expensive and occasionally unstable fuel, some might think that was expected.


THE PLAYERS

Answer to McClaren's prayers
Spurs have not done much picking from their academy orchard in the last couple of years but classy goal-scoring central midfielder Jamie O'Hara got a squad number last year, which is a start.
Underrated achiever
Michael Dawson is loved by fans but doesn't have a bulging scrapbook of cuttings. Clocked up 58 appearances in Ledley King's absence last season and even made Anthony Gardner play well.
Will see red
Didier Zokora is a master of the ill-timed lunge; put your money on him to flip an opponent into the air like an old sock.
A warm welcome to
Gareth Bale, whose youthful but cultured left foot should kick Lee Young-pyo and his uncultured right foot out of the gates.
Fans would nominate for eviction
No one understood the signing of the Charlton reserve Danny Murphy 18 months ago and nothing has enlightened them since. Even the club's list of his achievements stops in 2003.
Heading for Hollywood
As he slips that diamond into his earlobe, Jermain Defoe is already there. He's affirmed his red-carpet credentials by proving himself adept at being papped outside West End venues in his flashy Aston Martin DB9, despite snappers barely being able to see his little head poking over the steering wheel.
We know what they did this summer
Robbie Keane joined newly wed Michael Carrick in a karaoke rendition of American Pie ... Dimitar Berbatov's "glory star" was unveiled on Sofia's Walk of Fame ... Defoe got Ainsley Harriott round to show him how to use his £200,000 kitchen.


THE MANAGER: MARTIN JOL

Learned at the knee of...
Sir Alex Ferguson tried to talk Jol into taking second spot at Old Trafford before opting for Carlos Queiroz.
How he likes to play
Usually favours a 4-4-2 formation designed to hit the ground running and grab an early lead.
Media handling
Looks as if he might kill you to protect the family honour but in fact is charming, with an eye for the ladies. He called Gabby Logan "darling" three times during one interview.


LAST SEASON

Points per game v top 4 0.50 v the rest 1.87
Uefa Cup quarter-finals
FA Cup quarter-finals
Carling Cup semi-finals
League discipline Y47 R3
Top scorer Berbatov 12
Fair play league 1st


THE FACTS

Ground White Hart Lane, Bill Nicholson Way, 748 High Road, Tottenham, London N17 0AP
Getting there White Hart Lane station (served by Liverpool Street) is 5mins walk. Seven Sisters tube (Victoria line) is a bus ride or 20mins walk
Switchboard 0870 420 5000
Capacity 36,214
Away allocation 3,000
Ticket prices £27-£71
Ticket office 0844 499 5000
Disabled facilities 0844 499 5000
Club shop 0844 499 5000
Official website tottenhamhotspur.com
Title odds 66-1
Relegation odds 150-1
----
West Ham United


THE CLUBNickname
The Hammers.
Nickname should be
The Shammers, due to their inability to register contracts or read the rules.
Bankrolled by
Eggert Magnusson made his money from a baking-and-biscuit operation in Iceland and is the front-man of a £85m consortium led by the former footballer Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson.
How they'll do
After the ugly display of player-power last term a raft of Curbishley signings should help produce a season of relative stability - sixth to 16th then.
Nightmare on Memory Lane
Losing 3-0 at Sheffield United, an April 14 six-pointer, and having to win the last four to stay up. Thousands travelled in hope but the refrain at St Pancras station afterwards was an unequivocal: "We are going down!" That and the 6-0 drubbing at Reading on New Year's Day, which could and should have been 10.Fine them £5.5m for...
Distorting an already overheated transfer market by handing out over-the-top fees and wages - Liverpool made £1.5m in 12 months on Craig Bellamy, £60,000 is handed over every week to the creaking Freddie Ljungberg, and honest trier Lucas Neill trousers £55k for seven days' work. And that's not to mention tearing up Javier Mascherano's contract, allowing Liverpool to sign him for a £1.8m "loan fee".
Big in...
"So if we all could stand together then we can share our dreams with you / There'll be no one who'll come between us, the vision will become true!" - Austrian Hammers official anthem, Together Forever.
On the road they'd be...
Baby Bentley: This bulky beauty has become synonymous with fast-living and, dare we say it, arrogance. It is the automotive equivalent of putting on lots of shiny things and running down the high street shouting "Look at me! Look at me!" It certainly cost a bit to assemble but is still liable to get stuck in traffic.


THE PLAYERS

Answer to McClaren's prayers
Mark Noble, 20, has been playing first-team football for three seasons but it took Alan Pardew's departure to get him a regular start in midfield. He can tackle (unlike Michael Carrick) and pass with both feet (unlike Frank Lampard).
Underrated achiever
James Collins arrived as the makeweight in a £2.5m deal with Cardiff for Danny Gabbidon in 2005 but finished last season as a key player in central defence.
Will see red
Noble's snapping tackles often yield a yellow or two, although he has yet to get a couple in the same game.
A warm welcome to
Scott Parker, a Curbishley favourite who emerged in the Charlton youth team but, after greed-motivated moves to Chelsea and Newcastle, has much to prove after his £7m summer arrival to get himself back into the England reckoning.
Fans would nominate for eviction
Carlton Cole is about to start his seventh season as a pro and has never managed to score more than four goals in any of them. With his fifth club now but, if he is to get to double figures, needs to find a sixth, in a lower division. Sheffield United, perhaps?
Heading for Hollywood
Freddie Ljungberg already adorns US billboards on adverts for Calvin Klein boxers and once his four-year deal is up he will be out there again like a shot, perhaps pushing the cutting-edge clothing business he is setting up with his brother.
We know what they did this summer
Cole had four cars repossessed after failing to keep up the repayments ... The repoman didn't stop Cole putting his hands up for Detroit at the GLAM dance event in Dubai.


THE MANAGER: ALAN CURBISHLEY

Learned at the knee of...
John Lyall was his first manager at Upton Park and a return to those cerebral days could be on the cards, though Curbishley's ability to handle a dressing room of big-ego players has been called into question.
How he likes to play
Prefers 4-4-2 with a lot of sideways movement.
Media handling
Placid pragmatist and more intelligent than the average manager, though can reach for the comfort blanket of the cliché.


LAST SEASON

Points per game v top 4 1.50 v the rest 0.97
Uefa Cup first round
FA Cup 4th round
Carling Cup 3rd round
League discipline Y85 R2
Top scorer Zamora 11
Fair play league 13th


THE FACTS

Ground Boleyn Ground, Green Street, Upton Park, London E13 9AZ
Getting there Upton Park station is on the District and Hammersmith & City lines. Set out early if heading to an evening game from central London
Switchboard 020 8548 2748
Capacity 35,146
Away allocation 2,200+
Ticket prices £34-£61
Ticket office 0870 112 2700
Disabled facilities 0870 112 9908 (Gina Allen)
Club shop 0871 224 2200
Official website whufc.co.uk
Title odds 500-1
Relegation odds 13-2
-----
Wigan Athletic



THE CLUBNickname
The Latics.
Nickname should be
The Letics. There's only one "a" in "athletic" after all.
Bankrolled by
Dave Whelan made his coin at JJB Sports with pricey England shirts and staff wages starting at the minimum.
How they'll do
It looked as though Wigan would fall victim to "second season syndrome" as they fell away dramatically last season but Paul Jewell somehow scraped them out of the bottom three in time. Jason Koumas is a welcome addition to Chris Hutchings' squad - but is it enough to avoid a repeat of the mess caused the last time Hutchings took over from Jewell, at Bradford?
Nightmare on Memory Lane
After beating Arsenal in the semi-finals of the 2006 Carling Cup, the craven capitulation to Manchester United in the final was an embarrassment.Fine them £5.5m for...
Every time Whelan brays his opinions. Whelan was the prime mover in calling for the relegation of West Ham over the Carlos Tevez affair and also threatened to quit the club over the price the local bizzies charged to police matches. When the latter threat was met with a deafening go-on-then-see-if-we-care silence, Whelan suddenly went mute on the subject and remains to this day wedged in the Wigan chair.
Big in...
London is as far as Wiganites are flung, and Cockneylatic.net is their home. There is a JJB World site but that's advertising a night at the stadium with music provided by Martyn and DJ Joe.
On the road they'd be...
Batmobile: A high-performance unit built exclusively for the enjoyment of a wealthy man with a mission to improve his home town. Recently roared out of nowhere in the nick of time to save the day and send a rival to certain doom. Though it continues to hide in the shadows it's got quite a lot of tricks. Trouble is you're never entirely sure what it's going to do next.


THE PLAYERS

Answer to McClaren's prayers
Right-back Ryan Taylor is solid and has a powerful free-kick. Of course playing for Wigan ensures he'll be off Stevie Boy's radar but, should Manchester United's reported interest come to anything, that will change in an instant.
Underrated achiever
Emile Heskey has had his fair share of critics in his time but, while his scoring record could, as ever, be better, he pitched in enough last season - and the level of effort he put in, especially during the hairy run-in, was second to none, something you couldn't always say about him.
Will see red
With a turning circle of a small articulated lorry, Titus Bramble often finds himself one rash challenge away from a second yellow. In a struggling team he could well be a liability.
A warm welcome to
Koumas, who may look on this as his last opportunity to prove he's got what it takes at the top level. He's got the passing range to boss Premiership midfields; now he needs to show the application.
Fans would nominate for eviction
Julius Aghahowa played in only six matches last season, so nobody's getting on his back yet. But should he continue the indifferent form - and take too long to register his first goal - the crowd may get testy with their £2.1m signing.
Heading for Hollywood
Chris Kirkland is surely a shoo-in for an Edward Scissorhands-style tragi-comedy: The Man Who Had Powder For Bones.
We know what they did this summer
Carlo Nash cut short his honeymoon with Jill to sign for the club ... Kirkland had surgery on a shoulder and thumb.


THE MANAGER: CHRIS HUTCHINGS

Learned at the knee of...
Chris Kamara at Bradford. Oh dear. Happily he's also spent plenty of time working under the much more successful Jewell.
How he likes to play
He'll replicate Jewell's pragmatic game plan: soak up the pressure and try to nick a goal with a speedy break.
Media handling
Nice-guy Hutchings is polite and quiet, which did him no favours during his struggles at Bradford. He should bitch about his luck if things start going wrong here.


LAST SEASON

Points per game v top 4 0.00 v the rest 1.27
FA Cup 3rd round
Carling Cup 2nd round
League discipline Y76 R3
Top scorer Heskey 8
Fair play league 18th


THE FACTS

Ground JJB Stadium, Robin Park, Newtown, Wigan WN5 0UZ
Getting there Wigan's central stations (Wigan North Western and Wallgate) are a 20min walk away
Switchboard 01942 774 000
Capacity 25,135
Away allocation 5,000
Ticket prices £15-£25
Ticket office 0871 663 3552
Disabled facilities 0871 663 3552
Club shop 01942 210252
Official website wiganlatics.co.uk
Title odds 2,500-1
Relegation odds 6-5
__________________
Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. Martin Luther King
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