19) BIRMINGHAM CITY
Pts: 19 (3-6-10)
Preseason Prediction: 15th
It’s entirely possible that I’m underestimating Alex McLeish and Birmingham again. As I said, I’m stubborn. They defend extremely well (and relatively cleanly, Birmingham had the second most yellow cards in the EPL, but only one red card), and Jerome and Chucho Benitez don’t need too many chances at the other end. They are better than the teams we’ve previewed already, and shouldn’t have too much trouble staying up.
But they don’t have the depth or the quality to compete with the teams at the top of the table, and did extremely well to finish where they did last season. I think it will be a step back, but not big enough to fall into the Championship abyss, a league their fans are all too familiar with and – at the end of the day – will be happy to avoid for the time being.
That whole “shouldn’t have too much trouble staying up” thing obviously has to be revisited. They’ve still only conceded 24 goals in 19 games, but they’re offense has been beyond dreadful and they are the only EPL team who hasn’t won on the road this season. It’s almost like McLeish went to the well once too often, they were somewhat fortunate last season to pick up as many points as they did, and he assumed the same thing may happen this season, and it hasn’t. Poor Cameron Jerome has spent most of the season playing alone – and I mean really alone – in a 4-5-1. He needs help, and it’s hard right now to see where it’s going to come from.
Preseason Best new signing:
Nikola Zigic – Zigic has arguably been the biggest flop signing of the season, as he hasn’t been able to deal with the speed of the Premier League, basically forcing McLeish to leave Jerome up there. He hasn’t even been all that good in the air, particularly at the defensive end. He does have 2 goals and 3 assists, but he’s only been fouled 9 times all season, which tells you how much he’s had the ball.
Preseason Key player :
Roger Johnson – Johnson and Scott Dann, integral to Birmingham’s success last season, have still started every match for them this season (along with Barry Ferguson), and – while not quite in last year’s form – have still been pretty darn good. But they’re not players that can carry a team to heights or anything, they need offensive help.
Key player now:
Liam Ridgewell – He’s second on the team with 3 goals from his left back spot, and has added some much needed spark to the Birmingham attack. It’s not his strong suit, but he did score 5 goals for Aston Villa in 2005-06, and his contributions (he’s also been fouled a team-leading 34 times) have flown under the radar this season, he’s been very good.
Inside The Numbers:
0 – Number of goals from Alex Hleb this season, someone who Birmingham could desperately use if he could get in any kind of the form he previously showed for Arsenal and Barcelona.
Things don’t look particularly good right now for Birmingham, but when you look at some of the other teams at the bottom of the table, and how organized they are, I still think they’ll bore their way out of the drop zone and stay in the Premiership.