Let’s start with the transfer activity. There has been a lot of rumour and counter-rumour in the last 24 hours regarding Chris Smalling, with some saying he has signed for United, while others claim we have come in with a last-ditch bid to snatch him away.
From the information I have, it’s a done deal. We may or may not have had a bid accepted, but it seems the player has chosen United anyway and will join in the summer. That information backs up the hunch I had anyway that United wouldn’t be stupid enough to make the same mistake twice, by posting this on their official website:
“Manchester United has agreed terms for the transfer of Chris Smalling from Fulham. Chris has agreed personal terms with the club and will join for the beginning of the 2010/2011 campaign. He will remain at Fulham until the end of the current season.”
Having had their fingers burnt by claiming the signing of Ramsey in a similar manner only for us to trump them at the last minute, such a clear statement would not be made again unless they are doubly sure. I believe the only remaining hurdle is the medical.
So we move on. I have no doubt we’ll be chasing centre backs (deliberately plural) in the summer, as we could be incredibly short of numbers – Gallas may leave, and in any case is in the final throes of his career, Campbell almost certainly will leave, while Senderos already has.
Speaking of the Swiss defender, Andy at Arsenal FC Blog has a good piece on him, and particularly the humble and intelligent manner in which he has departed. It would be easy to lash out given his lack of opportunities in recent times, but he remains appreciative of the chance he had. While many fans never rated him, you’d be hard pushed to find one that wouldn’t be happy to see him succeed. Good luck Phil.
Elsewhere, Wilshere’s loan choice is likely to be made public today, after confirmation that a host of top flight clubs are interested in him. Wenger is insistent that he must choose a club that will give him regular football, and while I’d love to see him at a footballing side such as West Ham and Fulham, I suspect he’ll be elbowed in training by Kevin Davies at Bolton instead.
Back to the football, and tonight sees the first in a massive run of games. A trip to Villa is never easy, and we have bad memories of the game from last season, where we let a 2-0 lead slip in a game we could have conceded six in. Fortunately, Villa are on pretty poor form, and the fans are beginning to get impatient – if we have a lot of possession in the first half an hour they may begin to turn.
I must say, having heard the boos ringing around Villa Park in recent weeks, they are a truly ungrateful bunch – Martin O’Neill is doing a great job. I guess people always want more.
Team news is encouraging – Bendtner is back on the bench after a three month layoff, and assuming he can stay fit, he has a massive role to play between now and the end of the season, especially as he’ll have the chance to play down the middle. Nasri also returns (it is incredible how some players consistently recover quickly from injury, and others take an age), while Ramsey and Sagna are available. Diaby should return soon, while Song and Eboue may be available for Sunday.
Villa will be tough – we’ve had problems with Carew and Heskey in the past, but with the first choice back line available again, they will be confident of blocking them out. Cesc will be giving the opposition nightmares after his Boxing Day cameo against them, but their focus on him may free up the likes of Rosicky to make a real impact.
Four big games ahead, and the only one I’m not confident about is the trip to Stamford Bridge. United and Liverpool have to come to the Grove, while Villa are very beatable opposition if we play anywhere near our best. Seven points from the set of games would be a very decent return – even if we lose at the Bridge, two wins and a draw would keep us in contention as our fixture list gets simpler and our injuries clear up.
It would be nice to start with a win tonight, and despite the attention he will get, I’m picking Cesc to score again, at 11/5.
Enjoy the game, wherever you are.