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Friday, 07 August 2009

Summer Departures: Who Will Cope Best?

With Xavi Alonso’s contract at Real Madrid finally penned, the eye of the storm finally arrived over Anfield. And with Cristiano Ronaldo lauding it up in the Spanish capital as the most expensive footballer on the planet - many Premiership clubs face the ‘life after…’ syndrome. This season brims with intrigue.

Make no mistake; Liverpool will miss Xavi Alonso, (the incessant bartering by Rafael Benitez offers a gauge of how much). Arguably Alonso’s influence was on a par with that of Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres, he just had more stealth in approach. The Spanish playmaker’s efficient demeanour made Liverpool tick. The effect it may have on the front two remains to be seen. 

Gerrard and Torres have built an understanding as perilous as any in the top flight – much of this success can be complimented to the deep lying groundwork of Alonso and Javier Mascherano. The impending arrival of Alberto Aquilani from Roma has a lot resting on it, he has big shoes to fill.

It is not only the top two who must readjust. Some may disagree, but Arsenal have had two big elements subtracted. Emmanuel Adebayor was facing a losing battle with the fans, his general lethargy had drawn a divide and Manchester City offered him a new start. Ignoring his poor work rate though, his goals will missed, 46 in 106 league games. Andrei Arshavin, Robin Van Persie and Eduardo’s contributions need to be more prevalent. 

Kolo Touré dealt Arsenal a double blow by following Adebayor. His departure though may be eased with the arrival of Belgian centre back, Thomas Vermaelen. Unheard of by most, sure, but Arsene Wenger’s astute reputation was built on signings such as this. 

However, the reluctance in Wenger to spend any of the profit from the aforementioned departures, reinforces the connection some make between the notion, ‘lacking ambition’, and Arsenal. It remains to be seen if this jeopardises their sacred top four birth. To a degree though, you can understand his refusal to succumb to the demands of the inflated transfer market.  

Gareth Barry was the first big name to arrive at City this summer; City’s gain is certainly Aston Villa’s loss. But like Alonso, it was worthless keeping a player who craves a move away. He was consistently a focal point for Villa, his influence off the field is probably more irreplaceable than his impact on it. Coupled with Martin Laursen’s retirement, leadership quality may be lacking at Villa Park this season. 

Glen Johnson and Peter Crouch will be the biggest absentees for Portsmouth; but nigh on £27million in the coffers will ease the pain. In retrospect it was only a matter of time before the latter followed Harry Redknapp and Jermain Defoe up to White Hart Lane. For Portsmouth this looks like a long hard slog of a season. With their squad thinning, almost by the day, it is unrecognisable to that of the Redknapp era.

You could be excused for being a Wigan supporter drinking from a half-empty glass. Antonio Valencia’s move to Old Trafford, although not directly, saw him as the secondary link in the transfer chain - after you know who. The Wigan midfield now lacks bite and creativity. 

Maybe more detrimental at the JJB stadium was the departure of Steve Bruce. He is one of the best young English managers around– don’t be surprised to see Wigan and Sunderland swapping league rank, this being Wigan’s first full season without Bruce. 

Whilst Ronaldo pranced around like a performing monkey, in front of 80,000 crazed Madrid fans at the Bernabéu, in comparative terms, Carlos Tevez sneaked out of the back door to join the Sky Blue revolution. The attacking fantastic four that helped Utd retain the Premiership crown, have literally been torn apart. 

Late April at Old Trafford, Tottenham were two goals to the good at half time. It finished 5-2. A little tweak from Ferguson and this fantastic four turned the game on its head. If the same predicament were staring Utd in the face, at any interval, at any point this season, would Ferguson have the quality of squad to turn a game so emphatically? Maybe not.

Two massive assets have left. Saying that, Michael Owen could turn out to be the new Ole Gunnar Solskjær. Amongst others, this is a big, big season for both Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov.

So whilst three quarters of the top four have seemingly been shaken, Chelsea appear to be the only ones not to have buckled and ravaged by the millions of Real Madrid or Manchester City. They retained the pivotal member of their assembly, if you will. 

This year looks as though the quintet at the top could genuinely be penetrable. Players who vary in styles of influence have moved on this summer, but which clubs will cope best? 

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