BPL 2013/14 Focus: Top 7’s Bench of 7 (1/2)

Much has been speculated over how teams are going to line-up for the start of the season next Saturday. However, less has been said about how their bench will look like. In truth, this is as, if not more, important than the first eleven of any side, especially those challenging nearer to the top. Hence, the top 7 placed clubs of last season will have their 7-man bench scrutinized. Who doesn’t have a secured first eleven place but more or less has a spot on the bench? Which individuals are fighting for which places on the bench? Which positions in their respective benches do they have the strongest individual(s), compared to their rivals?

To be clear, the first eleven will not be listed, but could be mentioned here and there to give reference when describing the players on each bench. To FF, the ideal bench has to have at least a specialist goalkeeper, a specialist centre-back, a specialist full-back and a specialist striker. The other 3 positions of FF’s ideal bench is less certain, with a central midfielder preferred over a defensive midfielder, an offensive midfielder or winger, and a winger or deeper-lying forward. This is mainly due to the many complexities surrounding formations and different managers’ thinkings.

 

Manchester United’s Bench: A. Lindegaard; J. Evans, A. Buttner; Anderson, W. Zaha; W. Rooney, J. Hernandez.

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The reigning Champions of England probably have one of the best bench in the league so far. Though Andres Lindegaard may not be as reliable as desired, the choice of back-up defenders at new manager David Moyes’ disposal is high on quality and on quantity. Chris Smalling or Phil Jones could easily take Jonny Evans’ place, equally all three could be thrusted into the starting eleven without a blink of an eye. These three could easily be emergency right-backs too. Due to this, Moyes will probably opt for a left-back, in Alexandre Buttner as he is seen as a more capable back-up to captain Patrice Evra than Fabio is.

With no midfield signings so far, Anderson could still prove a useful back-up for their central midfield, while Jones is able play as an unorthodox midfielder too. New signing Wilfred Zaha probably gets the nod ahead of the underachieving Ashley Young as the potential game-changer from the flank, and his direct running and immense pace will be very useful in unlocking stubborn defences for the Red Devils. Wayne Rooney, for all his uncertainty, will have a place on the bench at the least, while fighting for his regular start. However, Danny Welbeck will be giving Rooney a run for his money, even putting up a huge fight for that space on the bench. Specialist poacher Javier Hernandez has to be on the bench for the sheer fact he can grab a goal off the bench almost anytime he wants.

Evidently, Moyes’ bench’s strength in depth comes from the fact that he has depth beyond the back-up of 7 for his central defensive and centre forward positions. Conversely, he would definitely like to have a midfielder good enough for the first-team, such that the likes of Tom Cleverley will be seen more as a squad member rather than indispensable partner for Michael Carrick in central midfield. Such strength in depth gives Moyes’ side more durability, especially during the hard winter months of December, allowing him to rotate such that his squad will be fresh for the decisive run-in onwards of April.

 

Manchester City’s Bench: C. Pantilimon; J. Lescott, A. Kolarov; J. Rodwell, S. Nasri; A. Negredo, E. Dzeko.

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With four new key signings made by Manuel Pellegrini, the Sky Blues’ squad now has enough depth that ex-boss Roberto Mancini could only dream of. Costel Pantilimon, tallest ‘keeper in the league, provides a reliable back-up to the Chilean boss, highlighted with his run of games in the cups last season, helping his team to the FA Cup final (before he was dropped in favour of first-choice Joe Hart in the final itself). Joleon Lescott, though much maligned, is still considered a defender good enough for most sides outside the top 4, although the rising Dedryck Boyata might be sniffing around for Lescott’s spot on the bench. Aleksander Kolarov probably gets the nod as back-up full-back over Micah Richards on most days, due to his flexibility at playing left-wing.

The trio of Javi Garcia, Gareth Barry and Jack Rodwell would probably fight for that one midfield spot on the bench, though Garcia could be given the centre-back spot on the bench in an emergency. In all likelihood though, Barry will either be sold or slowly phased out, and Rodwell will be the back-up midfielder for Pellegrini due to his big-money transfer, and that he is seen as part of City’s next generation of core English players. Jesus Navas’ arrival will see him attain the right-wing spot to balance out David Silva’s narrow play on the left, this would represent Samir Nasri’s relegation to the bench, pushing James Milner out of the match-day squad and Scott Sinclair closing to the exit door.

Pellegrini would probably go with two strikers on his bench in Alvaro Negredo and Edin Dzeko, provided the latter doesn’t leave this summer. He will want to be able to chop and change his front-line during matches, but don’t be surprised if Dzeko was dropped in favour of Milner’s industry off the bench.

 

Chelsea’s Bench: M. Schwarzer; G. Cahill, R. Bertrand; M. Essien, A. Schurrle; V. Moses, F. Torres.

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Returning manager Jose Mourinho definitely got an upgrade on his understudy for first-choice Petr Cech in goal, with the free transfer of veteran shot-stopper Mark Schwarzer from Fulham. He will definitely provide better cover and competition than Ross Turnbull or Hilario ever did. Gary Cahill, if he doesn’t start, is surely guaranteed a place on the bench, especially since Mourinho prefers Branislav Ivanovic at right-back instead of central defence. It will be a toss-up between Ryan Bertrand and Cesar Azpilicueta for the last full-back spot on the bench, but either is equally capable of stepping up to the first-team should Mourinho have different ideas in mind. Chelsea definitely has very good cover in defensive positions here.

This is further emphasized by the fact they have two centre-midfielders of first-team quality in Michael Essien and Jon Obi Mikel, along with new signing Marco van Ginkel, to fight for that one central midfielder spot, behind starting duo Frank Lampard and Ramires. Any of the three back-ups could be in the first-team should Mourinho decide to play 4-3-3 instead of 4-2-3-1, and with Lampard’s age further restricting the number of games he can play, there will be much rotation and game time, whether for Essien’s hard-running trait or Obi Mikel’s deployment just ahead of the back four.

Fellow big-money buy Andre Schurrle is guaranteed of a place on the bench, at least, if not fighting for a spot in the Blues’ attacking line, maybe displacing Oscar given the chance. The last two spots on the bench will be a toss-up too really. Ideally, Victor Moses and Kevin de Bruyne will fight for that other offensive midfielder spot, while Demba Ba and Fernando Torres slug it out to be back-up to Mourinho’s “new-age Didier Drogba” in Romelu Lukaku. While at least one of the strikers are guaranteed their spot on the bench, it could be very well the other back-up striker take up the offensive midfield spot.

Mourinho has much to choose from in almost every position for his bench. This will suit his rotation policy as he try to keep everyone happy. He will have a healthy problem due to being spoilt for choice in regards to his squad depth. Better more than less.

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