Thursday, August 2, 2007

Premiership Preview--6. Portsmouth

6. This is the most improved team in all of the Premiership, there's no question about it in my mind. Portsmouth finished 9th last season, just 2 points out of a UEFA Cup spot, but this team is the best seen on the South Coast since the sides that won the old Football League in 1948-1949 and again in 1949-1950. Portsmouth, under one of the finest current managers in England, Harry Redknapp, have come from almost-certain relegation in 2005-2006 to 9th place last season, and this year will be even better. They started off last season like a house on fire with 5 consecutive clean sheets, and though they cooled off towards the end of the year, it was a dream finish for Portsmouth fans. It's going to be a huge, huge mistake to underestimate this team in 2007-2008.

One paragraph can't even begin to summarize the players Portsmouth brought in this summer. Franco-Russian chairman Alexandre Gaydamak has spent more than $40 million US to improve this up-and-coming team. Most notably, strikers David Nugent and John Utaka (from Preston North End and Rennes, respectively), midfielders Sulley Muntari and Arnold Mvuemba (Udinese and Rennes), and defenders Hermann Hreidarsson and Sylvain Distin (Charlton and Manchester City) are all new signings that will greatly impact this team. They lost only Andy Griffin and Svetoslav Todorov, two players that would've played no role for Portsmouth this season anyway. There are no glaring weaknesses anywhere on the team; Portsmouth have a great goalie in David James, a solid, if not outstanding, back line and incredible roster depth there, a midfield that is young but extremely gifted, and an attacking corps that will more than get the job done. Kanu led the team last year with 10 league goals; I guarantee that 10 will be nowhere near the team lead this season with the players Portsmouth brought in.

Portsmouth have the most ridiculously difficult stretch of games to start the season out of any team in the Premiership. After opening the year at newly promoted Derby County, it's home against Manchester United and Bolton, away to Chelsea and Arsenal, back home against Liverpool, at Blackburn, and then home against Reading. Insane! With that schedule, Portsmouth won't start the season as well as they did last season, but I guarantee they'll bounce back. Obviously seeing all of the tough teams the first time around at the beginning of the year means Portsmouth will only see teams they should beat for the rest of the first half. Another tough run of games in December (Everton at home, Aston Villa away, Tottenham home, Liverpool away, and then Arsenal home) will be tricky as well. However by my estimation, the season ends with 13 winnable games in a row, the toughest of which is at Tottenham.

Bottom Line: Portsmouth's main problem last year, the one that kept them from playing in Europe this season, was an inability to win away from Fratton Park. They recorded just 3 road wins in 2006-2007, along with 7 draws and 9 losses. At the very least, I believe Portsmouth will have to get that road record to .500 (even in wins and losses) to have a chance of finishing higher than 6th this year. If they do that, this team certainly has the talent to join Tottenham and the "Big Four" in breaking away from the rest of the Premier League. Finishing in a UEFA Cup spot should be a given for Portsmouth. Harry Redknapp has built a great roster on the South Coast, one that is a class above the teams I predicted to finish lower. The question is, can they climb that next step up the ladder? We'll see.

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