Season preview: The squad is ready, time to focus on football and trying to win games

This is possibly the one post of the year I don't look forward to but then find, because I always start it with a beer and it takes a few hours, that I've quite enjoyed it by the end.

And last year, I did my best to make it a quick post and to basically summarise my thinking, which I think I did quite well, even if it didn't turn out as predicted and a top half finish.


But that was mostly because we didn't start last season as we finished the one before (which was something we needed to do to have a good season) and we didn't get the experience we needed to kick on from the previous season.

But I think we've got that experience now. In fact I'm sure we've got that experience now and if Darren Bent is given a proper run in the side while Benteke is getting back to full fitness, I feel slightly confident that we can start next season as we finished the 2012/13 season.

Experience in the right positions

And it's not just that we've signed some older players, it's that we've got older players in the right positions that have Premier League experience. And most importantly for me and I'm not jumping on any bandwagon when I write this, we've got someone in that number ten position that can, for me anyway, unlock teams.

And Joe Cole is going to be important for us this season. He's our modern day Carbone or Merson and as long as he can stay fit, I'm convinced he'll have a positive impact. We could even think of him as the next Robbie Keane and I think everyone will agree that he had a positive impact during his short stay.

And in a slight change, I'm going to look at the players we have but I'm going to do it in formation and position rather than individually and I'm going to throw Guzan in with the defenders and Joe Cole in with the midfielders.

Defenders

Okay, I mentioned I was going throw Brad here but basically, there is little to write about Brad. He is our number one and he has shown that he is more than capable. What is a little interesting is how I think Lambert will start this season and it might actually be something I can get behind this time.

I've got a strong feeling that Lambert is going to start with three central defenders and two attacking full backs. In essence a sort of 3-5-2 formation (but I'm going to look at it as a 5-3-2). Now, this isn't much of a surprise, but I've for a long time not supported it, wanting instead for him to play four at the back and a variation of five in the middle and one up front.

But with Senderos coming in, Okore looking ready to go and the manager telling us that Vlaar was going nowhere, I can see no other alternative to playing three central defenders. Add to that Richardson coming in, I think it's fair to say that he'll be playing at left back (with Joe Bennett as cover) and Bacuna and Lowton fighting it out for right back.

Midfielders

This is where it gets interesting for me because we're putting Joe Cole in here for sure and his job will be to roam about and link up play, but none of us can expect to see Cole running around chasing down players for ninety minutes.

Now, you're thinking that all players have to do that, but in the case of Joe Cole and this is probably very much just me, I'd rather he wasn't chasing the ball and players, but available in space for when we did get the ball back.

I know this is a very simplistic way of looking at it and his nature will be to track back and it will happen, but we shouldn't get on his back when it doesn't happen every time or if we see him not tracking back with everyone else. Expect to see one of the strikers doing that.

But we're going to need two players in the midfield positions that are going to work and I think this is going to be tough for the manager, but I think he has help. I think Roy Keane will offer some valuable experience here (and I know Paul Lambert was also a midfielder).

I think a nailed on certainty to start, if he signs a new contract, is Fabian Delph and many will expect Lambert to start with Westwood, but with Joe Cole playing a role I think the manager thought Westwood would be able to do, I think he'll be spending time on the bench this season.

I think what Lambert is going to want in the middle and I think this will be coming from Keane too, is some tenacity and I think if we accept Cole and Delph are going to start, then that player in the middle of the park could very well be Chris Herd or Gary Gardner.

And you'll think I'm mad but Herd has bags of potential and Gardner has to get a run this season if only to show he is past all his injuries or to put him in the shop window.

But Cole isn't always going to be available and we have the likes of N'Zogbia, El Ahmadi and Sylla who will also be looking to play. And each of those can play when Cole and Westwood are not. Or when Delph and Herd are suspended.

My point is and I'll get to this in more detail in the section below focused on tactics, if we accept we're going to be playing five at the back and two strikers, there is only room for three midfielders and if one of those is going to Cole (the position we've been crying out for ever since the manager came), we have quite a few players fighting for two positions (one if accept Delph starts).

Strikers

Let me get this out of the way from the start; as soon as Benteke can play, he'll play. That leaves one position and to begin with that is going to be either Gabby or Weimann because I can't see both of them starting and I think until Benteke is fit, Bent will play.

Sure, we've got Kozak and Robinson, but I think in this post, we have to look at what is most likely. There are also a lot of players in the squad that haven't yet got a mention, but that just goes to emphasise how many players we do have.

My point is, we need to have two strikers on the pitch and if I had to put money on who would start right now, I'd say Gabby, but I think I'd prefer Weimann. What I really mean is that I think it's going to be a tough call for the manager.

It's about the football

And this is the second from last section and this section is basically about how we play football. For me, this is the most important section of the post and why I don't want Lambert to bring in any more players. We've brought in three and for me that is enough because if you look above, you'll see there are plenty of players that the manager has brought in that are not going to get a look in this season.

We have to focus on how we play football and the players have to know what they are responsible for. And for the love of everything claret and blue, we can not sit back this season and counter attack.

We have to have some impetus and we have to use the ball and we have to create space and opportunity. I know this is easy to write, but we've had to watch sitting back and hitting long football for far too long and it can not continue.

I'd go so far as to say that if it does continue, then the manager won't be the manager come Christmas and I've long written that for me, he has until October to show us he can can get the best out of these players.

It's football first, but it's not about sitting back, it's about going out to win games. If he does that and I think he will, because I don't think Roy Keane is going to want to go into a game playing not to lose, thinks will get better.

Prediction

We have a big squad of players and the manager is responsible for bringing in quite a few of those and he's also responsible for bringing some of them back into the squad. We also have a few players that were from our Academy. Apart from Cole, Richardson and Senderos, we've got a group of players that all know each other.

My prediction is that we won't bring in any more players. I'd go so far as to suggest if he does bring in more, it's just going to make his job harder. Sure, if someone really special becomes available, we've got to make room, but I can't see that happening with everything that is going on at the club at the moment.

And I know I predicted a top half finish last season and I got it wrong, but I'm going to predict it again. I think, or is this maybe hope, that with Keane at the club and some much needed Premier League experience, we can kick on with the younger players and a new philosophy of playing to win games and not sit back.

It's not going to be easy and this is mostly a hopeful post, but it's my mantra for the season. We have to go to win games and if we do, the victories will come. It we don't go to win games we won't, it's the nature of things. If we go out to win, we'll win more than we lose.

So there you go, three beers and my season preview post. Time for another.