2010-2011 Season Recap:
The big theme of last season was Bad Half/Good Half. Over the summer they hired Martin Jol away from Ajax Amsterdam, only for the team to refuse to let him out of the contract. They ended up signing Hughes right before the start of the season. They got off to a slow start. Then the Wolves broke Zamora's leg and the team imploded, falling to as far as 19th on the table at one point and entering the new year in the relegation zone. Then the good half happened: Hughe's adjustments started taking hold, Dempsey rose to the occasion as the team's top scorer, and Zamora returned as the team accumulated more points in the second half than all but 2 teams in the league. Come the end of the season, they finished in 8th, their second highest position in the history of the club. Their quest for the team's first-ever hardware fell short, as they were knocked out of the Carling Cup in the 3rd round at the FA cup in round 5 (a step back from last year's quarterfinal loss). The quest will continue, however, as they earned one of the last 3 spots in next year's Europa League on fair play rules (despite some alleged attempts to tank, accumulating more than a dozen cards in the last 3 matches including the only red card of the year).
What to watch for in 2011-2012:
Can they build on their momentum from the end of last season (with stable leadership and with a healthy squad)? While I don't have any illusions about whether they can compete for a title I'd love to see whether they can top the 7th place finish from two years ago. Based on the play from the second half of this season, it seems very possible.
The folks at Craven Cottage Newsround posted this analysis of Mark Hughes's approach against teams with differing talent levels. The argument is that Hodgson's closed game strategy helped them upset some of the big 4 clubs and may have served them well in their Europa league run. Hughes, on the other hand, plays an open game that helped them better dominate the less talented clubs but exposed them against the best teams in the league. The question becomes, can they continue to get the results against the chaff but not play like total shit against the ManU's and Chelseas (and, for that matter, the Atletico Madrids, Hamburgs, and Juventuses)?
Though Zamora is undoubtedly the team's best offensive weapon, Dempsey emerged as a force in his absence. What can the team do to take advantage of this 1-2 punch?
The schedule is going to be long and training period short. The Europa League qualifiers begin June 30 and run every week for the rest of the summer. While the team likely won't have to put up a real team against that competition,** it's still a lot of extra travel when the team could be training and added minutes for most of their starters. If they make it to the knock-out stage, that's 52 matches guaranteed plus the Carling and FA Cups. During their run to the Europa League final last year they played 63 matches, and all the extra play seemed to impact their play in the Premier League.
* Seriously, San Marino is the area of Quincy and has the population of Wellesley. And depending on how the drawing goes, we could have a match against their league champion.
Edited by Kevin Jewkilis, 14 December 2011 - 05:21 PM.