Well, the weekend’s win over Norwich, coupled with Wigan’s loss to Swansea, all but guarantees our safety, in my eyes. Yes, I know its only 5 points and two straight losses will mean we are in real trouble but I honestly can’t see Wigan beating Arsenal after the FA Cup final. They are already guaranteed to be in Europe and I think they have used up all their lives this time.
So let’s for one minute assume that we are safe (hopefully our team wont make that mistake over the last 2 games)! Where do we go from this season? Obviously Bent, Ireland, Dunne and Given are out so that is going to free up some cash. Do we have players ready to come in and fill those places? Yes we do BUT it would be a huge mistake to rely on youth so heavily again. We most definitely need to build our team around Benteke and I think being able to switch Gabby and Weimann will help but I would expect to see Albrighton and either Burke, Grealish or Carruthers step up next season. Next season will also be massive for Gardner. I am concerned: we hear a lot about his potential and he has put some good performances in but we need to see him get a few more games under his belt.
It was great to see Guzan get the recognition he so richly deserved this week. I think he can feel hard done by over the last couple of seasons but when required he really stepped up to the plate and I think he has shown that he could be one of the top goalkeepers in the league. You have to remember that he had a very inexperienced defence in front of him and if it hadn’t been for him then I think we would have shipped a lot more goals.
I think the end of the season really is the changing of the guard. As I have already said, we have some youngsters with great potential coming through but we really need to look at how we protect them as well. The LB area has been a real problem for us this season but I believe it is too early to write off our current options. Given some more experience, I think we can see improvement but we need to balance youth with experience and I would be happy to see some older players come in, on the understanding that the youth will get its chance.
With the fair play rules quickly being enforced, we have to accept the fact that we simply won’t have the buying power of other clubs and of course the big clubs are essentially stockpiling players to allow them to to build up their revenue. I can see the benefit of what they are trying to do but we also risk polarising our league and ending up with dominant clubs that will never be challenged because the also-rans won’t be able to catch up.
However, as we have seen with German football this season, there are always surprises out there and fresh approaches can work. So what should our expectations next season be? Well, I think we definitely need to be aiming for a top 10 finish with a good cup run If we have another poor run of results next season then I can see us losing the core of our exciting team. Hopefully, we have learnt from selling our best players but, with the guard changing at United, I could see someone like Moyes looking longingly at Benteke.
Two slightly nervy games lie ahead but hey – potentially we could finish mid-table this season. Wouldn’t that be a nice surprise?