Premiership Preview–17. Bolton Wanderers

Bolton Premiership Preview  17. Bolton Wanderers For everyone outside of Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, and Arsenal, success in the Premiership can be fickle. We saw it last year with Tottenham, who wound up an extremely disappointing 11th after two straight 5th-place finishes. We saw it last year with Reading, a club that was relegated a season after finishing comfortably in 8th place.

Bolton is a perfect example of this. In 2004-2005, Sam Allardyce led the suburban Manchester side to 6th and a UEFA Cup berth the next year. The Trotters ended the ’05’06 campaign in 8th, narrowly missing out on Europe, but fought their way back into the UEFA Cup last season through a 7th-place finish in 2006-2007. They reached the Round of 16 in Europe’s second-tier club competition, but only narrowly avoided relegtion from the Premiership as the sale of star striker Nicolas Anelka in January and the resignation of Allardyce at the end of the ’06-’07 season crippled the team. The three consistent, top-half finishes were great for Bolton fans, but would’ve been little consolation if their team had finished with just two points fewer than what they’d earned.

Bolton has the dubious distinction of being the club who has spent the most seasons in the Premiership/First Division without ever winning the title (69). That isn’t going to change this year either, and Gary Megson has spent more than $30 million, a relatively large amount of money for a small club like Bolton, on only three players, all of whom will likely be starters. With that said, Johan Elmander was the biggest splash in terms of name-recognition, and he’s only slightly above average at best.

Fabrice Muamba brings some youth and exuberance to an aging Bolton midfield, which, to be fair, was made younger this summer with the release of Stelios Giannakopolus and Ivan Campo, both of whom are well past their prime playing days. Muamba is a quality young defensive midfielder and will feature immediately, as will Elmander, who was signed from Toulouse for a reported $20 million in a swap deal that saw Daniel Braaten go the other way. Elmander has a decent goalscoring record for Sweden and is coming off a good season in France, but based on what he’s shown in the past, Bolton clearly overpaid for him. Riga Mustapha just signed from Levante, where he scored roughly a goal every five games, and his pace will be a welcome addition to Bolton’s wings.

As mentioned earlier, the subtractions of Giannakopolus and Campo are no big losses to Bolton on the field, although both provided experience and leadership. El-Hadji Diouf, arguably Bolton’s most dangerous player last year after Nicholas Anelka, was sold to Sunderland. He has a reputation for being a bit of a cancer in the dressing room at times, but there’s no denying his natural ability and Bolton will miss what he does out there.

Muamba further reinforces the midfield, by far the strongest area of Bolton’s squad. He’ll sit in a holding role and allow Kevin Nolan to push further up the field as he likes to do. Matty Taylor mans the left wing after spending several years as an attacking left back at Portsmouth, and Mustapha will slide into Diouf’s role on the right. Gavin McCann will occupy the space ahead of Muamba and behind Nolan, where his noted lack of foot-speed can be protected from exploitation, when Bolton plays a 4-5-1, which they’ll do fairly often. The versatile Ricardo Gardner will get his share of playing time, likely swapping in and out with Taylor depending on the form of both players, and also at left back, where he’s ahead of Jlloyd Samuel. Young Swiss international Blerim Džemaili should return from a severe knee injury and compete with Joey O’Brien for a backup role behind McCann.

Projected Starting Lineup (4-4-2):
GK: Jussi Jääskeläinen

RB: Grétar Steinsson
CB: Andy O’Brien
CB: Gary Cahill
LB: Ricardo Gardner

RMF: Mustapha
DMF: Muamba
AMF: Nolan (captain)
LMF: Taylor

ST: Kevin Davies
ST: Elmander

Bolton desperately needs to improve their play away from the Reebok Stadium; they had the worst road record of any of the 17 teams not relegated last year with a 2-5-12 mark and -23 goal differential. They weren’t really competitive on their travels, and that may not change to start the new season as their first five road games are at difficult venues — St. James’ Park (Newcastle), Craven Cottage (Fulham), Old Trafford (Manchester United), Upton Park (West Ham), and White Hart Lane (Tottenham). You never know what you’re going to get on any given day from Newcastle, West Ham, and Fulham, but Bolton still will need to bring their best game to pick up valuable points.

December is their toughest month, with games against Chelsea, @ Aston Villa, Portsmouth, and @ Liverpool all in a 20-day span. It doesn’t get much easier in January as Bolton will visit Blackburn and Arsenal and play host to Manchester United and Tottenham before traveling to Everton in the first weekend of February. I could honestly see Bolton failing to win even one of those nine games, so it’s critical they take advantage of a relatively easy slate in March (@ Stoke, Fulham, @ West Brom) and finish the year strong in May when Sunderland and Hull come to town. Also in May, Bolton will go to Wigan and Manchester City, both manageable games.

Bottom Line: You’re going to see a Jekyll-and-Hyde Bolton team based on this schedule, which is excrutiatingly difficult for stretches and very forgiving in others. As long as they get the job done when they’re supposed to, I think Bolton will be OK, but they can’t afford to drop many points because West Brom will be nipping at their heels all year long. The key for Megson will be finding someone to score goals. Davies and Nolan combined for only 9 in the league last season, and that total needs to improve by 4 or 5.

Tomorrow brings 16th and 15th places to the forefront. Last year, that was the thick of the relegation fight. This year, I’m not so sure if that’ll be the case..

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15 Responses to Premiership Preview–17. Bolton Wanderers

  1. tomvast says:

    so you are saying elmander won’t start in your projected staring 11
    well that just shows how much you know about football you idiot.

  2. Michael says:

    Sorry about that, you’re right, I just forgot about him. Likely scratch McCann and insert Elmander up top with Davies, but Elmander may also play wide right as well.

  3. The Dark Knight says:

    Absolutely clueless article.

    First let’s start with your comparion of Diouf to ‘cancer’. Now everyone knows he can be a bit of twat but comparing him to a devastating ilness that ruins lives? Not funny, not intelligent and it’s bloody insulting.

    Secondly your apparent knowledge of how Bolton will line up is way, way off the mark. We won’t be playing 4-4-2 and we have’t done so for yonks. Riga won’t start and neither will McCann. It’s also debatable as to if Gardner will start ahead of Samuel. What you will more than likely see barring any more signings is:

    Jussi

    Steinsson
    Cahill
    AOB
    Samuel

    Joey O’brien
    Muamba
    Nolan

    Davies
    Elmander
    Taylor

  4. jm says:

    I am not sure about the British dialect, but in contemporary American dialects, “cancer” is commonly used in its sense of “blight.” This is a legitimate sense of the term, and is tied to its etymology – it has long been used to describe an array of different medical conditions.

    Thus it is not fair to accuse Michael of comparing Diouf to the medical affliction commonly referred to as ‘cancer’ which does ruin lives, instead, the best interpretation of the sentence is that Diouf was a bit of a blight on the clubhouse, that is, he had a deleterious effect. In Michael’s idiolect (I presume), the latter reading would be more obvious and expected, and I assume that it is the reading he intended.

  5. Michael says:

    One problem, Elmander is not a stand-alone center forward. You can’t play a 4-3-3 or 4-5-1 with him up there in the middle.

    Also, I didn’t compare Diouf to cancer necessarily, it’s a commonly-used saying here in the US. It means no offense to those with cancer or those who have family members with the disease. Lighten up.

  6. Michael says:

    Yes, thank you, jm. Dark Knight, my apologies if you were offended, but that wasn’t my intention whatsoever.

  7. Michael says:

    One more thing, Dark Knight, I said repeatedly that Bolton would be playing a lot of 4-5-1. When they do, you could see Elmander pushed wide right and Davies used as the lone striker. Before you criticize me and jump to conclusions, read the post thoroughly and the comments that follow.

  8. Well I’d just like to say that you’re a complete idiot.

    Firstly we didnt pay 20m for Elmander, that was their asking price we paid something like 11m and Braaten who is worthless.

    You have no idea of what your on about, Diouf is a fan favouraite, he is entartaining, he is a big presence on and off the pitch.

    Also, you say the team was cripled by Anelka’s and Allydyce’s departure. No, we had a bad season because of the tactic changing and signings that were made during the Summer by Sammy Lee. We lost confidence and so it was always a battle. Also, when things might have turned around we didnt have the best of luck as several occasions remarkable things happened.

    And finally to wrap up, if we are such a bad team tell me this why was it when we had the confidence in the UEFA cup we got excellent results. We played our 2nd team in 90% of the games yet we still managed to get past briliant opposition.

    - Bayern Munich away, 2-2 a well desearved and important point.

    - Red Star Belgrade away, 1-0 we won and which no other English team has done.

    - Athletico Madrid away/ home, another amazing result against another team which has qualified for the Champions League.

    And all the other results were important ones and not bad.

    So basically you know nothing, and you’re writing a load of crap.

    In my many seasons of BWFC and brilliant trips away around Europe I think I have learnt what the club is about.

  9. Manny Road says:

    Have to agree with Phil that Diouf, although a hot head on the field, is widely regarded as being a great asset in the dressing room. So before we get into arguments about usage of the word ‘cancer’, it’s worth putting on record that it’s simply factually wrong, with absolutely no evidence to back it up. Don’t presume that just because many (non Bolton fans) hate Diouf that his colleagues do too.

    I would also take issue with the idea that Anelka’s deaprture crippled us. I keep trying to tell people that although he scored goals he rarely won us matches… and we stayed up without him.

    To say Campo is no loss is the worst crime though, to me he’s world class and had at least another year in him… this is where the writer is shown up for probably having seen very little of Bolton Wanderers.

    In fairness to him though he’s saying Elmander was 2o million dollars, not pounds.

    Manny Road: A blog about Bolton Wanderers
    http://www.mannyroad.com

  10. ok misread that bit but 11m isnt a lot in todays premiership market. Look at Keane going to Liverpool for 20m, hes getting on a bit and he isnt exactly a world class striker.

  11. babswanderer says:

    Having followed Bolton home and away for 25 years, I thought it was a reasobale column, apart from the comments on Doufy (my husband even named his dog after him!), who I wish all the best, and who always loved Bolton supporters after such a miserable time with Liverpool’s.
    I think most supporters agree Sammy Lee was a mistake and the jury’s still out on Megson. Still as all supporters at the start of the season, we live in hope and we need pace and goals- let’s hope this lineup will deliver.

  12. Michael says:

    Phil, any time I write articles with money values, it’s dollars, not pounds. I’m an American; I use American figures.

    Also, you’re completely wrong about Robbie Keane. He’s not a world-class striker, no, but he’s good for 15-20 goals a season and is Premiership-proven, which Elmander certainly isn’t. Elmander is an above-average player on his best day, and Bolton did overpay for him to attract him to the club.

    Manny, Campo is no loss on the field, but I said he brings experience and leadership that will missed. He’s too old, too fat, and too slow to play consistently in the Premiership today.

    Phil, those UEFA Cup games you mentioned are one-offs and part of a two-leg tie, where anything can happen; the best team doesn’t always go through. In a 38-game season, the cream rises to the top, and the weak struggle. That’s what Bolton did last year after losing Anelka and with no one of any quality managing the team (either Lee or Megson). If you’re telling me that Bolton is as good as or a better team than Bayern Munich and Red Star Belgrade and Atletico Madrid based on that one result, you’re kidding yourself.

    Also , “you say the team was cripled by Anelka’s and Allydyce’s departure. No, we had a bad season because of the tactic changing and signings that were made during the Summer by Sammy Lee”. That’s my point!! That never would’ve happened if Allardyce would’ve left; Sammy Lee never would have been in charge in the first place!!!!

    Come on, seriously.

  13. Kevin says:

    will be watching to see how Elmander
    makes the transition to English Footy. He’s a tall lad, can hold on to the ball and scored 22 goals in ~60 games at Toulouse. That club-record £10million price tag isn’t for nothing

  14. Michael says:

    He’s not worth that much, I’m sorry. He had one good year in France, which is a second-tier league in Europe. He was poor the season before, and he’s not been that good for Sweden either.

  15. Mullayo says:

    Phil I think you need to lighten up a bit.
    Cancer is commonly used as a concept. “Cancerous” would have been more accurate but it’s trans-Atlantic semantics. It was a fairer appraisal of our positioning than we get from the British hacks who are all sweating on our relegation – as per usual.
    For the record Megson recently revealed Elmander was 8.2 million pounds. Just beating our Anelka bid.

    I agree with the columnist, I think our best formation is 4-3-3 with Elmander on the right Davies in the centre as target man and either Taylor or Riga on the left.
    Maybe Taylor in the next three with Muamba and Nolan. Much prefer Gardner. We’ve got good backs and the best goalkeeping squad in the premiership.

    I think we’ll be okay this year. Get a good start and bully teams. We’ve also signed a brick Shittu-se of a defender. Three of our four signings over 6ft 2in.
    I’d pick us for 15th-12th.
    C’mon Bolton.

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