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Best of the Prem: Swansea City to Wolverhampton

Roy Hodgson does his best George Bailey impression: “Well, I don’t have your trophy. It’s at Roman’s house… and Alex’s house… and Roberto’s house…”

Part Four takes us to a team that squandered their European dreams, another side that dropped like a stone, a third that pulled away from the edge of the precipice, and then two more that found the soft, creamy middle of the table.  Let’s have a look at their best, shall we?

The Dutchman did his part…

SWANSEA CITY
Michel Vorm (NED) – The first Welsh team in Premier League history was the mirror image of its fellow Championship graduate, Norwich.  Just like the East Anglians, the Swans’ gaffer opted for a wide-open system that had trouble on the counter.  Good thing Swansea had Michel Vorm.  The Dutchman faced a barrage of shots, but his save percentage remained in the top flight’s top five.  That’s why he will compete for the honour of being the Oranje ‘s No. 2 in the Ukraine this summer.

Ade wants to stay

TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR
Emmanuel Adebayor (TOT) – I know that many Spurs fans — along with several neutral observers — will take issue with this pick. Why not Gareth Bale, or Luka Modric?  But the stats are pretty clear: more goals, more assists in the league, more possession, more clear chances on goal.  Sure the big man up front was a bit of lazy git at times, and Tottenham fans are worried that they have another Berbatov on their hands.  But the Togolese striker was lethal for the Lilywhites and, more importantly, he wants to stay.  The same might not be said for his teammates in midfield.

The Baggies’ Foster child…

WEST BROMWICH ALBION
Ben Foster (ENG) – Beware when your best player is a keeper.  WBA finished a positively decent 10th place under a positively decent manager, Uncle Woy.  Peter Odemwingie had a decent season with 10 goals in the league.  The Baggies were 12th in scoring, 14th in defence.  Foster was decent in the middle of the goalkeeper pack when it came to saves and goals against.  All of this bodes well for England, doesn’t it?… Doesn’t it?!?

NOT Gary Caldwell…

WIGAN ATHLETIC
Gary Caldwell (SCO) – Hey Wigan! Come here, you! No, go away! No, come here! No, go away! The Latics channeled the ghost of Alexei Sayle by dallying with relegation for the entire season (Editor’s Note: Alexei Sayle is not dead).  Wigan were bottom of the table as late as St. Patrick’s Day, so it was apropos that a former shamrock-wearing defender led the charge to safety.   Gary Caldwell’s team posted a record of eight wins and only two losses in their last nine matches, while only letting in seven goals.  That’s as many as the eventual champions, Manchester City.  (Ed. Note: Caldwell didna kill his brother — and former Wigan teammate — Stephen.  He’s at Birmingham City… )

Wolves say they won’t let Fletcher go…

WOLVERHAMPTON WANDERERS
Steven Fletcher (SCO) – One of the only above-average players on a very sub-par squad, Fletcher had more goals than Frank Lampard, Rafael van der Vaart, Chicharito and Gareth Bale.  ‘Nuff said…

Brent Lanthier

Up Next: Season’s Starting XI and ATR’s PoY!

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EPL Transfer Winners and Losers

Nail-biting time at the transfer deadline

Hello, lovelies. Did you miss us? Sorry, we’ve been busy.  Ian decided that he wanted to get married and then cart the newly-minted Mrs. Harrison all around Turkey.  No Galatasaray or Fenerbahce for him though… unless those are also varieties of kebab.  Meanwhile, I was doing my best to produce quality news programming about the sh!t show in Tottenham.  How many times can one person talk to Bradford University’s Professor of Peace Studies? As many times as you like, it turns out.

With the labour troubles in Spain and Italy, and the always ridiculous August spending sprees, I decided to wait until today to wind the blog back up. So now that the dust is settling, let me tell you who I think did well in this year’s silly season, and who got what the Greeks called gamise‘d. (Look it up).

WINNERS

Liverpool – If you are Scouse — and have been cryogenically frozen since this time last year — you would think that you had died and gone to the Great Big Kop in the Sky, la.  Kenny Dalglish is manager again? Most of the starting line-up is English or South American? Over one hundred million pounds spent on players? No club debt? Craig Bellamy?!?  Over the last six weeks, King Kenny has dumped 17  players who were either mediocre or colossal mistakes.

The £35 million spent on Andy Carroll is starting to look like folly, and Meireles’ sale to Chelsea might bite the Pool in the bum when they visit Stanford Bridge.  But the acquisitions of Suarez, Coates, Adam, Downing and Enrique have all come up roses.  The Reds should qualify for the Champions League, while meeting both UEFA’s Financial Fair Play and the Prem’s homegrown rules.  Throw in a nice knock-out trophy and the season will be an unqualified success.

Manchester City – See above re: getting rid of dead weight.  The purchases of Aguero and Nasri are coups d’etat… no question.  The shock acquisition of Owen Hargreaves might be genius or ignorance, depending on whether City trainers can get the former England international fit again. Now Tevez’ agent says the wantaway Argie may stick around.  If you throw in Aguero, Dzeko and Balotelli, that is a scary forward line… plus Silva and Nasri on the wing.  The accusations of a middling Mancini team are dissipating rapidly.

Manchester United – I like to think of Sir Alex Ferguson as a Scottish Elmer Fudd.  Prone to fits of fwustwation… he has been vewy vewy quiet as he hunts for twophies.  De Gea, Young and Jones were bought early in the summer before the silly season started.  But unlike Bugs Bunny’s bald antagonist, Sir Alex usually gets his hare (insert tired Wayne Rooney joke here).  United had no movement at the deadline because there was no need.  Who cares about the rest of the Prem… Sir Alex is tracking Catalonians.

Crouchie beams after finding Stoke on the map...

Stoke City – Slowly, quietly, Tony Pulis has been building the Potters into legitimate competitors.  They have begun their third season in the top flight with a solid European campaign, after making it to the FA Cup final in May.  Now claims of boring, boring Stoke might be put to rest.  Twenty-two million pounds spent on Peter Crouch, Wilson Palacios and Cameron Jerome may not offer up oodles of goals.  But they are legitimate options and they are playing in front of a defense as good as any in the league.

Tottenham Hotspur – ‘Arry did a lot of wheeling and dealing this August, dumping lads that he wasn’t really playing away.  Only three new players have made their way to the Lane (perhaps because they were afraid of taking the tube into Tottenham).  Falque is untested.  But Scott Parker was magnificent in West Ham’s midfield… and Adebayor must be chomping at the bit to score goals against his former club, Arsenal.  PLUS… ‘Arry somehow managed to keep Luka Modric onside.  Not a wheeler-dealer, my eye.

Wigan Athletic – Not a lot of movement… but the permanent signing of Ali Al-Habsi may be enough to keep the bastards up.  This club is the “Boris the Blade” of the Premier League…

Wolverhampton Wanderers – Last season, Wolves allowed the fourth-most goals in the Prem.  Two of those other three teams were relegated.  But credit Mick McCarthy for buying Roger Johnson.  This season, Wolves have only allowed one goal in three games.  It’s early days yet but Wolves look tons brighter.  For the life of me, I still don’t understand why Johnson can’t get a call-up from Fabio Capello.

LOSERS

Aston Villa – Shay Given was an inevitable choice to replace Brad Friedel, and Villa Park is definitely a step up for Charles N’Zogbia.  But c’mon: Alan Hutton? Jermaine Jenas?  Things may have started well… but Villa fans will find yet more things to grumble about this season.

Yakubu shows how many pies he can eat in one sitting

Blackburn Rovers – Kudos to Steve Kean for kicking The Human Camel to the curb…. and Scott Dann should amply fill the hole left by the departed Phil Jones.  But so much for the supposed flow of superstars into Ewood Park.  Yakubu is a joke acquisition (who looks like he’s had a Venky’s chicken pot pie or two)… and since Jason Roberts has yet to manifest as the Second Coming of Alan Shearer, no one is left to score goals.  Look for the Red Rose of Lancashire to have fully wilted by Christmas.

Chelsea – Overshadowed by City’s bigger kitty, Chelski still seem intent to throw around their rubles.  Meireles is a good signing… and Liverpool will be happy to have made some money on him.  But the purchase of Lukaku and Mata has to mean that Villa Boas isn’t confident in a now-injured Drogba… or the misfiring £50 million mistake known as Fernando Torres.  I may eat my words… but Abramovich’s ego buy will haunt Chelsea for sometime.

Everton – If you don’t have much firepower to begin with, why would you part with any offensive players at all?  To pay the bank, that’s why.  It is a bad sign that the Toffees offloaded Arteta and Beckford.  Everton fans should be very afraid.

Newcastle United – Andy Carroll leaves his hometown club.  Kevin Nolan has a magnificent season and then abandons the team for a Championship outfit.  Then both Joey Barton and Jose Enrique tell the cyberworld how unhappy they are… and leave.  The Geordies should be up in arms… and Mike Ashley should be ashamed of himself.

Norwich City – They were quiet at the deadline, except to send a couple of players to the lower leagues.  That’s because Norwich is a lower league team.  They weren’t exactly losers at the transfer deadline; I just don’t expect Norwich to go anywhere except back to the Championship.

Swansea City – The Tafs should enjoy their Premiership ride while it lasts.

West Bromwich Albion – If you’re bleeding goals, why wouldn’t you try and sign a decent centre back? Oh, right… it’s because you’re West Bromwich Albion.

Too Early to Tell

Arsenal – Where is the real Arsene Wenger and what have you done with him? Nothing like an 8-2 loss to one of your biggest rivals to open up the purse, is it? Arteta, Benayoun, Mertesacker and Santos are not inspired buys… but they are players worthy of one of the world’s biggest clubs.  However, it remains to be seen if Arsenal moves on from Sunday’s humiliation… or if it lets the occasion cloud the rest of the season.

Bolton Wanderers – When I look at Owen Coyle’s side, I tend to make that Marge Simpson noise of disapproval.  The Scotsman has managed to keep Gary Cahill and he has brought in Tyrone Mears (a very decent right back) and some steel in Nigel Reo-Coker.  Klasnic already has three goals but David N’Gog and Gael Kakuta will have to start making an impact right away.  Despite the so-called “free-flowing” football, Bolton have a lot to prove…

Fulham – My dark horse at the beginning of the season, Fulham haven’t exactly flown out of the gates. But they have two excellent keepers, a great back line and a decent midfield.   The double-digits spent on Bryan Ruiz shows they are serious about trying to improve their offensive output.  Otherwise the Cottagers will have to depend on their defence.  That could result in a lot of draws… and look what happened to Birmingham.

Queen’s Park Rangers – Despite their victory against a struggling Everton, QPR have not had a great start.  However, they are owned by one of the world’s richest men and they are starting to spend a little of his money to make an impact.  With buys like Barton, Dyer, Gabbidon, Boothroyd, DJ Campbell, Luke Young, Armand Traore, Anton Ferdinand and Shaun Wright-Phillips, QPR has successfully transformed itself into a Premier League team.  Let’s see if it can stay that way.

Sunderland – I have to admit that I’m personally disappointed with Sunderland’s start to the season.  All summer, I watched Steve Bruce do what I thought were some tidy little pieces of business. He signed Elmohamady to a permanent deal.  He fought off bigger clubs for Conor Wickham.  He bought Gardner, Larsson and Vaughan, who were among the best players from their relegated clubs.  Bruce bought veteran players Brown and O”Shea from his old mentor, SAF… and he snatched young goalkeeper Kieran Westwood from Coventry.  Brucie has to turn it around or the Mackems will quickly call for his head.  Let’s see if the strike force duo of Nicklas Bendtner and Nicklas Bendtner’s Ego can do just that.

Brucie hails a taxi... just in case.

Brent Lanthier

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Second Chances: Blackpool

"Here I am, boys. Come and get me!"

They were supposed to be the laughing stocks of the league.  But Ian Holloway inspired his Blackpool team to great heights for awhile, before they came crashing back to earth at season’s end.  A poor-club’s Harry Redknapp, Holloway had his players taking the game to their opponents.  It worked for awhile… before teams got wise and fed on the squad’s glaring holes in strategy.

Still, it put several players in the shop window… and while the club talks about bouncing right back to the Prem, it might not happen for Blackpool if the big boys come calling.

'Ollie in one of his quieter moments...

Front and centre is Charlie Adam.  Clubs have been trying to pluck the Scotsman out of Bloomfield Road since Christmas… and the player has made no secret of his desire to go.  But Holloway’s stubborness means that Adam is still a Tangerine… for now.  His former Rangers boss, Alex McLeish, would love to make him Aston Villa’s first big signing… and Kenny Dalglish is looking to add to his stable of central midfielders.    Blackpool supposedly values him at £12 million, which would be a nice bit of business, since they bought him from Rangers for £500,000.   Let’s see if he can replicate his success at a big club… if he can get a game.

You would expect a defender on last season’s worst defence to be looked over.  But it could have been much worse for Blackpool if not for Ian Evatt.  The 29-year-old led the league in clearances: 430 times. Unfortunately, he was one clearance short in the final game, when an own-goal against Manchester United effectively relegated Evatt et al.  He has reportedly signed a new contract with the Seasiders that will keep him at the team with Premier League wages, but Blackpool may sell him if the price is right.

DJ. Gigalo. Huh... sucker...

If you believe Ye Olde Interweb, DJ Campbell is headed for every single Premier League club.  Apparently, they are all enamored with Dudley Junior.  He has never spent more than two seasons at a club, working his way up from the Isthmian League into the top flight over the last 11 seasons.  After scoring more than a dozen goals last season, Campbell is harboring dreams of becoming a full English international.  If he’s still in tangerine by August, I’ll eat my Blackberry.

Left midfielder David Vaughan has already turned down a new contract and is looking elsewhere.  He says he wants to stay in the Premier League so his international career doesn’t stall.  Will someone please remind the boy that he’s playing for Wales?  Not exactly giants of football right now.  But Vaughan was voted the club’s player of the year: he’s fast, he’s left-footed and he can hold his ground.  He may still have a few more seasons in him for a lower-table team.

Also rejecting a new contract is Scottish leftback Stephen Crainey.  He’s being linked with both Wigan and Swansea… so he’ll have one more year, tops, in the Premier League.

Next: Biirrrrrrmingham City

Brent Lanthier

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The Best of Times, The Blurst of Times

Do Wolves have any legs left?

Call it the Year of the Keystone Kops… a season where clubs have been stumbling over each other to fail.   So forget about Manchester United’s mediocre march to the title (and don’t tell me they’re up for the double by winning Big Ears.  If Schalke doesn’t surprise them, Real or Barca will certainly dispatch them with maximum efficiency).  Forget about Arsenal finding new and novel ways to self-destruct, sending Arsene Wenger further along the road to Nutterville. Chelsea are old.  Man Citeh’s millions couldn’t buy a team.  ‘Arry’s mighty offence petered out.  Liverpool were already falling down the hill.  And as usual, David Moyes’ Everton started too late to matter.

So with the exception of the FA Cup final — whose implications for Europe require an engineering degree to calculate — I’m watching the relegation battle that potentially involves half the league.

Two points separate seven teams: Newcastle, Aston Villa, West Brom, Fulham, Stoke City, Sunderland and Birmingham.  All sit relatively safe.  Next are Blackburn and Wigan in the two spots above the relegation zone that currently contains Blackpool, West Ham and Wolves.  Newcastle and Villa (at 10th and 11th, respectively) have reached the so-called magic number of 40 points.  For the others, the next 5-6 games are critical.

Wide-eyed Woy widing high at WBA

I’m going to go out on a limb and say West Bromwich Albion are safe.  Saturday’s loss to Chelsea was their first under Roy Hodgson, and no club has scored more since his reign began. 

Hodgson’s legacy of going for the draw seems to be lingering at Fulham under Mark Hughes.  The Cottagers’ next two games are at bottom Wolves before they host Bolton, who are woeful on the road.  They should hit the 40-point mark no problem.

Stoke City and Birmingham are the Premier League’s little European embarrassments.  Birmingham is already in the Europa League, via their Carling Cup win… but whether Stoke qualifies is still up in the air.  If they win the FA Cup final, they are in.  If they lose but Citeh qualifies for the Champions League, they are in.  Otherwise the spot goes to the sixth-placed team… I think… carry the one…

Either way, both have not been playing well as of late, with each team only winning two games in their last eight.   The bad news for Stoke is that they must face three other relegation battlers — Blackpool, Wolves and Wigan — plus Arsenal and the aforementioned Citeh.  Birmingham must also face teams fighting for a spot in Europe.  I think they will both stay up… only because there are teams playing worse.  But if they drop, it means two of England’s three Europa clubs won’t be playing in the top-flight at home.

That leaves six teams fighting it out for three spots above the drop.  Wolverhampton Wanderers are 20th, but they will leapfrog Wigan into 17th if they win that game in hand against Stoke.  Many pundits say Wolves are too good to go down… and they took some serious scalps this season.  But despite their recent form, every single one of their remaining games is against a struggling club.  It could be tough going for Mick McCarthy’s men.

Bruce wonders where it went wrong

At the beginning of the season, I picked Wigan Athletic to drop, partly because they barely missed it last year… but mostly because I was irritated that such a small, unsupported club was taking up a Premier League spot.  They also have to play several games against strugglers… as well as a surging Everton.

West Ham United sit 19th.  I thought with the addition of Demba Ba, they might have a fighting shot at making it out alive.  But they remain ensconced in the drop zone due to their inability to go for the jugular.

It’s the three remaining clubs that have the most to worry about.  Blackburn Rovers, Blackpool and Sunderland have been dropping like stones.  Blackburn have performed poorly since the departure of Big Sam Allardyce.  Blackpool and Sunderland seem to be on opposite sides of a mirror.  The Black Cats haven’t been the same since they lost their best player in Darren Bent; the Tangerines have suffered without cashing in on Charlie Adam.  Out of the three clubs, only Blackpool has won a game since the end of January.

In such a topsy-turvy season, I still think we are in for some surprises on the final day of the season… on both ends of the table.  It’s either the best season in years… or English football is at it’s most mediocre.

By the way, here are my picks for the drop: Wigan, Blackpool, West Ham.

Brent Lanthier

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Fergie’s Fantasy: Number Crunching

Nani, are you OK? Are you OK? Are you OK, Nani?

While my distant relative Sir Alex (an ancestral assumption on my part) makes it look easy, there’s a lot of factors to consider when you’re the manager. (Groans from the editorial staff).

You’ve got what you see from your fairly crappy vantage point at the side of the pitch, what you see when reviewing the game tape… and then there are the cold emotionless — but truthful — facts of the stats.

As a fantasy manager there are three key stats you need to look at to maintain a top knotch squad.

First… the overall score. This tells you who has been consistently producing all year at a high level… but often the numbers are more deceiving than you would think. For example, can you quickly guess who has been the most productive points producer in the Premier League this season? Drogba?

Nope. It’s Manchester United’s Nani who leads the league with 78 points followed by Drogba with 74, Newcastle’s Andrew Carroll with a shocking 72 alongside Florent Malouda and rounding out the top five is another Chelsea man, defender Ashley Cole with 71.

Second… value. This is a very important stat as it compares how a player’s points production with his cost.  The top player is this category is the aforementioned Carroll with Bolton striker Johan Elmander close behind. Newcastle’s Kevin Nolan and Joey Barton are also providing a lot of bang for your buck along with goalkeepers Simon Mignolet from Sunderland and Birmingham’s Ben Foster.

Last one is form. Self-explanatory. You want players who are playing their best starting for your squad. According to the form stats provided by the premierleague.com pool, nobody is hotter than Andy Carroll, with Nolan, and Wigan’s Charles N’Zogbia close behind. After that come the big names like Nani, Fernando Torres, and Marouane Chamakh from Arsenal.

Transfers

I’ve been getting it handed to me on my predictions lately so use these with caution! It’s all strikers this week!

Nando fights his way to the top of Fergie's picks

In: Fernando Torres
First off, remember a few short weeks ago when I told you to get rid of Fernando Torres until he starts scoring? Well he’s started! You need to get him in your lineup now! I’m sorry I ever doubted him. Those two goals against Chelsea were the kind of magic Liverpool fans have been waiting for… and there is more to come.

But how can you afford him? You’ll have to figure that one out. Dropping the similarly priced Didier Drogba or Carlos Tevez would be an option but a risky one. Drogba is recovering from malaria and has been quiet of late, but you get the feeling he’s ready to go off on another goal-scoring spree that could begin again at home versus Sunderland this weekend.

In: Marouane Chamakh
The verdict is in. He’s the real deal and a strong option if you can’t afford Torres. Will his minutes be cut back with the returning Robin Van Persie? Better hope not if you are a Gunners fan. Dropping the under-performing Dimitar Berbatov may help you fit him into your lineup.  Yes, I know I told you pick up Berbatov last month.  But I forgot that when someone else on United starts scoring (in this case the brilliant Javier Hernandez)Berbatov starts slumping. And pouting. Like I said, my picks have not been gold lately.
Carroll: The Geordie Fabio

In: Andrew Carroll
How many times can I write that you need to have Andrew Carroll in your lineup? Apparently quite a bit, but it’s been a few weeks since I mentioned him. He is becoming as reliable as his ponytail is long. That’s right: he’s about a foot too reliable.

Scott Ferguson

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Kicking and Screaming

If you want blood, you got it.

There was certainly no shortage of blood-letting again in the Premier League this weekend, as some teams scored at will:

– Chelsea has run rampant over the dregs of the division, following their 6-0 drubbing of West Brom with the same scoreline against sorry Wigan, who lost 4-0 to Blackpool in Week 1.

– Blackpool came crashing down to earth when they had their arses handed to them by Arsenal, 6-0.

– After doing a number on West Ham in the first week, a James Milner-less Villa was sent to the showers by new boys Newcastle… again, 6-0.

– Once-mighty Liverpool (well, not lately, I admit) were sent crawling back to Merseyside after losing to New Chelsea, er, Manchester City, 3-0.

For Liverpool and Aston Villa, success has been fleeting of late. The parallels are too hard to ignore. Both are massive clubs that are now in the hands of American owners, unwilling — or unable — to spend Big Four money (and make no mistake, yesterday’s loss is a clear sign that Liverpool are no longer a top-four club). Both have had their managers leave in the off-season, unhappy with the economic restraints on their team. And both have had to deal with wantaway players whose contracts aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on.

Milner suits up for City

I can’t help thinking that Villa’s humiliation is the end result of Milner’s long, drawn-out transfer saga with Premier League poachers Man City. The Blue Side of Manchester have been kit disturbers since Sheikh money started to roll in. Martin O’Neill was furious last year after Citeh-slickers started to whisper in the ears of Gareth Barry, tempting him away from the Midlands.

Or just ask Everton’s David Moyes. Joleon Lescott made it clear that his one-off fluke season was good enough to earn him a spot at a “bigger club.” Contract? Schmontract. Away he goes, and it took until after Christmas for the Toffees to get over the loss and settle into a new groove.

But it’s one thing to bitch and moan about where you work, it’s another not to show up at all. Yesterday, perpetual cry-baby Javier Mascherano decided he would not play for Liverpool, in light of the club’s refusal to accept an offer from Barcelona.

How ironic is it that one of the players offered up for the Argentine is Alexander Hleb. You’ll recall the Belarusian went to the Nou Camp two years ago, after pouting his way out of Arsenal. He failed to find a spot and is now transfer bait. Clap. Clap. Clap.

The Reds won’t be bullied into the deal. Good for them.  But this trend of leaving teams when things aren’t going your way is disturbing. Barcelona and Real have been the biggest offenders lately, trying to tempt players to switch shirts: think Mascherano and Fabregas this year, as well as Ronaldo and Alonso in seasons past. But Manchester United have also been known to upset the football cart, as did Chelsea when Russian mob oil money started to flow in.

The Bosman rule was created so that players could have a say in where they went… either by leaving on a free, or by nixing a deal to another team if they didn’t like it.

But stomping your feet and refusing to play when you’ve signed on the dotted line is bad for your teammates, it’s bad for the fans and it’s bad for the game. It isn’t just bad business…

It’s a bloody disgrace.

Brent Lanthier

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Living the Tangerine dream

By Colin Wood

The Premier League kicks off this Saturday with a proper old fashioned derby, a Lancashire derby.

Never mind champions Chelsea hosting West Brom, Liverpool’s opener against Arsenal on Sunday or Manchester United hosting Newcastle’s return to the top flight on Monday. The ‘derby’ match between Everton and Blackburn is irrelevant too (they both used to be Lancashire clubs until Liverpool was given its own Metropolitan authority of Merseyside).

No, the match of note to kick off the world’s most popular domestic football competition will take place in the unglamorous surrounds of Wigan (ok, so that’s inside the boundaries of Greater Manchester these days but who cares?) as the newest Premier League team, Blackpool, travel 38 miles from their seaside home to whatever the Latics’ stadium is called these days.

Last time these two sides met in league competition was in English football’s third tier just seven years ago. Having seen the Lancashire rivals play out a 1-1 draw in February 2003, nobody in their right mind would have dreamt that both these teams would have been promoted twice since then to duel in the Premier League in 2010.

Ok, so Wigan started their march up the Football League pyramid being bankrolled by Dave Whelan – they finished the season top of the then ‘Division Two’ on 100 points – but Blackpool were destined for another uninspiring mid-table finish. Their half-renovated stadium was a jumble of the past and the future – one side and one end were decrepit and falling apart and the Stanley Matthews Stand and Mortenson Kop had been opened in 2002 as a hopeful sign for a brighter (orange) future. The second half of the redevelopment has ground along like a tortoise going the wrong way on a treadmill.

Six years on in August 2009 those ‘new’ orange seats were pretty faded when the Tangerines, then in the Championship (having been promoted after a third-place League One finish in 2006/07), notched an impressive 4-1 League Cup win over their Premier League counterparts from across the county. It was one of those results that, if Wigan had been any other Premier League team, could have been described as a giant killing.

Blackpool went on an impressive run of results though and were contemplating the dizzy heights of the Championship playoff zone by Christmas. Everyone expected their season to implode or fizzle out, even those within the club were not dreaming of the Tangerines reaching the Premier League. The attitude was more ‘Let’s get 53 points to avoid relegation and then we can relax.’

But Blackpool kept marching on, they finished in the top six, beat Nottingham Forest in the playoff semi-finals before a 3-2 defeat of Cardiff City at Wembley sent the Seasiders into the promised land of Premier League football – and all this was done on one of the lowest budgets in second tier football.

So, Saturday’s match at the DW Stadium will play host to the minnows of the world’s most televised club football competition. But this is why English football is just so enticing – it proves you can afford to dream, whatever your perceived level.

Just like last year, Blackpool will be favourites for relegation. This year they will be playing a league higher than before, in a league they shouldn’t logically have contemplated playing in. Blackpool are in the Premier League! They’ll be playing at Bloomfield Road, which still hasn’t finished being built, a stadium that averaged around 8,600 spectators last season. Can the reality of this really kick in?

The Tangerine dream may not last long but it will be worth indulging every minute for those Seasiders fans who have not seen any top level success since Stanley Matthews and Stan Mortenson steered Blackpool to one of the memorable FA Cup wins of all time in 1953.

Much has changed in 57 years since and the 2010/11 campaign will now expose Blackpool’s unpredictable, erratic and entertaining manager, Ian Holloway to the world. Now that will be worth watching…

A former newspaper reporter in the UK, Colin Wood spent more than a decade working in communications & media relations for his hometown club, Colchester United, the A-League’s Perth Glory and Sheffield Wednesday. He lives in Perth, Australia, with his wife and infant son. Read more of Colin’s thoughts on footy at his blog, Off the Woodwork.

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