Whilst not everyone may relish the secondary European tournament, with more money and a group stage next year it could prove to be a step up from the Uefa Cup and it's certainly still more auspicious than nothing.
It also signals a third successive entry into European football (although admittedly this years campaign was a short one!)
It also signals another tick on what were my (and I suspect some of which were also Moyes') targets for the campaign.
1. Improve quality of team/squad - Done Whilst Castillo and Jacobsen look likely to depart in the revolving door, both Felliani (who's looking better all the time) and Saha (when he plays) have unarguably improved the squad's quality.
The growth in stature of the back 5 (yes including Hibbert!) must also be considered here and barring Utd (Ferdinand and Vidic are good) this is surely one of if not the best defensive unit in the league?
The blooding into the first team of Rodwell must also be counted as a very good addition and to a lesser extent (well bar THAT goal of course) Gosling too - would like to add Baxter to this list, but he's not had enough games yet to show either way. And last, but by no means least, our own loan blue Brazilian Jo has to be counted as a successful temporary measure (well at Goodison at least).
Obviously the squad is still thin and the loss of Fernandes and departures have to be factored in too. Whilst Fernandes never really convinced me (and I think Felliani is a better replacement for us with his height and aggression plus a scoring touch) I for one wasn't happy to see Carsley leave and his absence and our subsequent need to regel the midfield was a major factor in our early seaon shambles - this has since been mitigated by the rebirth of Neville as DM and Rodwell as cover.
Likewise, Andy Johnson was a good squad player but had gone off the boil and a combination of Saha signing, the up and coming Vaughan/anichebe and Cahill/Felliani playing further forward and laterly Jo have ensured he wasn't missed too greatly (xx) and the profitable transfer was good business.
Ultimately though the biggest signing for me was that of Moyes for 5 more years. Sure contracts don't mean much these days, but Davey is an honorable man and I like the think the reason for the long delay was whether he could guarantee the full term to continue his job here. The fact that he did (and let's face it he could easily have gone elsewhere for more money in his pocket and on transfers) ensures stability for the future and should keep this burgeoning, constantly improving team together for the forseeable and maintain the special spirit that has been built at this special club.
Overall then, yes it could have been a whole lot better (the Obinna work permit was a particular loss - we really need a pacy winger) and further midfield class in the shape of Moutinho was a disappointment too, but overall the first team looks better than last year and without injuries we would have options from the bench who can cover and/or make a difference (Vaughan, Gosling, Rodwell, Saha for Yak, Yobo. Valente).
2. Avoid relegation battle - Done I know this really shouldn't be on the agenda anymore and to be honest it won't be on mine next year, even Moyes has stopped talking about it, but for any club outside of the sky 4 (and especialyl with our yo-yo history) this has to be a check on the sheet. Suffice to say this has been emphatically achieved.
3. Good Cup Run - Done Though in the UEFA and Carling Cups w fell at the first hurdle, a good run in the most important tin pot (for me anyway) was achieved once we knocked out the RS. Taking Villa down (and dinting their confidence) was a great step up and to get to the Semis qualifies as great cup run in my book. Now of course our ambitions are turned up to 7!
4. Qualify for Europe - Done Unless I've misunderstood the Uefa rules (and let's face it they change every year so I might have), we're in the Europa League next year. Yes I'd prefer Champions League, but especially given our terrible start I'm more than happy to be able to dig out the passport.
5. Secure top 6 finish - Pending Even with the European place form the cup, this does matter I think, both from cash perspective and from progress as a whole. Three successive top 6 finishes, or potentially a 6, 5, 5 would mark out consistency and underline to potential recruits/investors that this sleeping giant is on the virge of breaking back into the top tier once again.
At the moment it looks like 5th is there for us to win and 6th is really only ours to lose, so I'd feel pretty confident that we can maintain this.
6. Secure top 4 finish (CL place) - pending, but unlikely Given the financial and status implications, this has to be our primary target for genuine progress to the next level in the seasons ahead. Whilst I do obviously still hold out hopes, in all honesty I think we've missed the boat this year.
I don't think the Villa away game was the crucial point there (although we should really have held on), rather it was a case of last minute lapses at Goodison vs Villa and Arsenal and poor away performances at the bar codes, Blackburn and Pompey. Had we held on at home against the teams above us and got just one win against those poor away teams we'd be 5th and 3 points off the Arse now.
We didn't, we aren't and 9 points (well 10 really if you consider goal difference) from 6 games against an in-form Arsenal side is too big an ask, especially when our next 'must win' game is away to Chelsea.
7. Win a Trophy At the end of the day even the riches of a CL place aren't as important as the silverware. In 10 years time no-one will remember who finished 4th and earned an extra £5 million for the kitty, but they won't forget the FA Cup winners. Can we overcome Chelsea? Of course we can, it's a one off game and anything can happen.
Whilst their team is better man for man in every department barring defence, the advantages in preparation have to be ours. Obviously we can't afford to take our foot off the gas completely, but with Chelsea challenging hard on 3 fronts we have less games (and less arduous games) ahead of us and our prioties are different - it's all about the FA Cup for us, but for them the Prem and the CL are (hopefully) more urgent distractions.
Just getting to the final has to considered a massive achievement, with 5 premier league opponents and 3 of them from the top 4/5 of the league (Villa were 4th at the time I think) we've had the toughest route to Wembley imaginable.
Overall then, whatever happens next I think we have to count this as a very good season. An improved team, European football secured and a brilliant cup run giving us a chance of a trophy... and still 7 games to play with an odds on chance of maintaining a top 6 finish, a fair shout of 5th and an (admittedly long) shot at 4th.
The report card so far stands at: B+
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1 Posted 20/04/2009 at 15:42:50
If we can gatecrash the top four again (it won't be this year, surely, but next year, who knows?) that might provide the impetus for us to move up to the next level, as it would obviously have financial implications for us but would also destabilise whichever of the Sky 4 we replaced.
2 Posted 20/04/2009 at 15:46:54
FA Cup runners up no longer get a place if the winners are already there... So it HASN'T been overlooked, it's just not true.
3 Posted 20/04/2009 at 15:57:10
4 Posted 20/04/2009 at 16:03:01
The cup winners of the UEFA accredited leagues ranked 1-15 (which would presumably include the Premier League) join the Europa League at the final qualifying round stage (August 20th and 27th, the last stage before the group stages begin) along with the 15 teams who go out of the Champions League at the qualifying stages (as we did when we went out to Villareal).
It then goes on to say:
"The losing finalist for the domestic cup competition will still be entitled to be entered for the Europa League should the domestic cup winners qualify for the UEFA Champions League"
So if Chelsea win the FA Cup and also qualify for the Champions League by finishing in the top 4 of the Premier League, we would be eligible to take their place in the Europa League.
5 Posted 20/04/2009 at 16:05:08
6 Posted 20/04/2009 at 16:21:58
7 Posted 20/04/2009 at 16:33:31
8 Posted 20/04/2009 at 16:59:16
Who would have thought it? After such a worrying start to the season and in January the prospect of playing Liverpool twice in quick succession at Anfield and we remained undefeated, there is light at the end of the tunnel. We are now in a comfortable position in the league and we are in an FA Cup final! That sounds more successful to me than what Aston Villa, Man City and Tottenham have done. And let’s not hide the fact of long term injries to key players like Yakubu and Arteta. Nothing has been won yet though and the team are one game away from becoming heroes.
9 Posted 20/04/2009 at 17:13:15
10 Posted 20/04/2009 at 19:16:08
I believe if we can handle Walcott in the final, the trophy will be ours!
11 Posted 20/04/2009 at 19:29:09
12 Posted 20/04/2009 at 19:30:07
Much as I?d like to keep him, I feel we won?t be able to afford Jo; so, let's give Saha and Vaughan as much match fitness as possible before 30th May. Saha is unfit but has class. Vaughan is unfit but surely to God he deserves a break.
Finally, I think there is some unrest in the Man City camp. Ireland looks isolated. If I could pick one player for us to sign this summer, it would be him. He would fit in perfectly. A 'feet on the ground' team man with a good deal of skill. I?d have him ahead of anyone.
13 Posted 20/04/2009 at 20:30:15
Let?s win the FA cup, chase 4th spot and hold on to all the players we have, getting the injured ones back fit for pre-season.
Then maybe we can welcome 3/4 players to help take the next step up...
14 Posted 20/04/2009 at 20:58:03
The key to the rest of the season is to get James Vaughan fit with gradually more game time and hopefully he can start the Cup Final as the lone striker and run the arse off Terry and Carvalho.
15 Posted 20/04/2009 at 21:57:41
16 Posted 20/04/2009 at 23:51:47
17 Posted 21/04/2009 at 03:47:09
18 Posted 21/04/2009 at 04:41:21
BTW, what a year! The dispair of the summer turns into the euphoria of spring! It sure hasn’t been dull, and we will win the trophy at the end of May. Enough with the negativism.
19 Posted 21/04/2009 at 09:03:01
20 Posted 21/04/2009 at 11:00:07
Since the formation of the Champions League, it has took the Sky 4 years to adapt to playing in Europe. They now adopt a unique approach in their playing style... ie, how often do you see Man Utd play hold out for a 1-0 win as they did in Porto. The competition has given a number of clubs good grounding for evolving into solid modern Champions League teams i.e. Atheltico Madrid, Porto, Lisbon
IMO It?s a better competition than it is given credit for. Each year there a big European Clubs involved, the likes of Hamburg, Munich, Ajax, Milan, Fiorentina, Seville, Marseilles etc.
We all know the financial advantages that the Sky 4 possess, therefore if and when we get our Champions League opportunity (disregarding 2005 as we were not ready) it is important that we take it.
21 Posted 21/04/2009 at 13:24:08
22 Posted 21/04/2009 at 13:29:55
Oh, nevermind. I don’t want to be the one...
23 Posted 21/04/2009 at 14:00:07
are you trying to tell me Walcott doesn?t play for Arsenal anymore?
24 Posted 21/04/2009 at 14:14:00
I love this Club!
COYB make it number 6
25 Posted 21/04/2009 at 15:21:11
But what about getting new recruits early this time round, hence the reason we did not make the league stage of the Uefa Cup.
Moyes should be given as much as possible to buy now in time for when transfer window re-opens,
Blue Bill ? back Moyesey now.
26 Posted 21/04/2009 at 16:46:10
27 Posted 22/04/2009 at 13:40:52
28 Posted 23/04/2009 at 15:18:23
a) FA Cup winner qualifies for Europa League
b) The FA Cup runner-up qualifies only if the winner has already got a Champions League place
So as soon as Chelsea are certain of a Champions League place then we are guaranteed to be in the Europa League. Chelsea need another 2 points to be certain to finish in the top four and so once they get that we will be definitely in the Europa League. Interestingly, if we had lost to Chelsea yesterday we could have guaranteed our Europa League place.
The only way we can fail to qualify is if we fall to 8th or below and Chelsea fall to 5th or below and we lose to them in the cup final - quite an unlikely scenario!
29 Posted 08/05/2009 at 10:54:38
We currently have an excellent youth system with proven talent such as Baxter and Rodwell coming through, plus youth we have brought in from elsewhere such as Gosling and even Fellaini who is only 21. We also have several older players with a lot of experience which helps develop the squad and helps the younger players. These include Neville, Saha and Cahill. These players, especially Neville and Cahill, provide the heartbeat of the team.
We then have the players you can always rely on to do something special that will try everything to help the team. These include Jagielka, Lescott and to a degree Hibbert. For all the stick he gets he never gives up. The best example for this however is probably Pienaar, a player that gives 100% every game. This mix of players provides an excellent squad that can only develop in the future, and will attract big names hopefully to develop the team even more and put us among the elite in English football.
This, however, is my point. For several seasons now we have continually been linked with big names, such as Moutinho, Riquelme and the return of Fernandes. However, none have materialised, forcing us to go for players such as Arteta, Cahill, Lescott and Jagielka. Although it would be nice for a world super star to end up at are club, I do feel that are current transfer policy is one that will only develop us as a club but also keep team morale.
Look at the likes of Aston Villa ? a solid team, full of English players, whose most expensive player is Ashley Young, who they bought for £12 million. Look at the success they have had this year.
Then look at Tottenham ? not a solid team, who have been worried by relegation troubles for the best part of this season and last season. Their most expensive player is Darren Bent, who cost £16 million. This shows that money can?t buy you everything.
Therefore, I think the transfer market this year will determine the season we have next year, and I certainly have total faith in Moyes and his transfers.