Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Premiership Preview--9. Bolton

9. Bolton narrowly held off Reading, Portsmouth, Blackburn, and Aston Villa last season to claim 7th place and the automatic UEFA Cup spot that comes with it. It was their fourth consecutive top 8 finish under manager Sam Allardyce, but there's a new era at the Reebok Stadium. Allardyce resigned on April 29 and signed on to manage Newcastle just over two weeks later. His assistant manager, Sammy Lee, took over for the last two games of the season and after a debut loss to West Ham escaped with a 2-2 tie against Aston Villa, enough for the club to finish in 7th. This will be Sammy Lee's first full season as a manager of any club, Premiership or otherwise. Fortunately for him, Sam Allardyce didn't leave the cupboard bare and management went out and signed several good players this summer.

Bolton have done the best they can to improve their club in this transfer window. Their only major loss was center back Tal Ben Haim's departure for Chelsea, but Jlloyd Samuel should be able to fill that void adequately. Midfielders Danny Guthrie, Gavin McCann, Mikel Alonso, and Christian Wilhelmsson are all much younger than the ancient players Bolton used in that capacity last year (Ivan Campo, Stelios Giannakopoulos, Gary Speed), and Bolton will be the better for using some of those new younger players for the pace and energy they bring to the table. Bolton's real problem, and one they tried to address by bringing in Heidar Helguson from Fulham, is a lack of explosiveness from their strikers. It's almost a one man show with Nicholas Anelka, but he may yet be on the way out before the summer ends. El-Hadji Diouf isn't the player Liverpool and Bolton thought he would be after his coming out performance for Senegal in the 2002 World Cup, and Ricardo Vaz Te is still unproven at the age of 20. If Anelka leaves, Bolton will be in desperate need for goals with no real options to turn to.

Bolton starts the Premiership season with 8 winnable games in a row, with the toughest test being a trip to Fratton Park to play Portsmouth. October is considerably tougher with Chelsea and Aston Villa coming to the Reebok sandwiched around an away game at Arsenal. All three of their games in February are against UEFA Cup spot contenders in Reading (away), Portsmouth (home), and Blackburn (away). A home game with Liverpool comes the week after the match at Ewood Park, followed by a trip to Manchester to take on the defending champions. 3 of the last 4 games of the season are away, including games at Tottenham and Chelsea.

Bottom Line: While this is a club that has better players than the team that finished 7th last season, their manager is not nearly on the same level as Sam Allardyce. Sammy Lee's inexperience will be the main cause for Bolton's lower finish this season, and a streak of four straight top 8 finishes will come to an end.

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