Pts: 29 (7-6-8)
Preseason Prediction: 12th
Accuracy: Not real close
There are a lot of question marks, particularly on the defensive end, where veteran Jussi Jaaskelainen saw far more shots than he would have liked last season. You also have to wonder about a front pairing of Robbie Blake and Johan Elmander, which doesn’t exactly strike fear in the hearts of Premiership defenders.
But Coyle is an excellent manager (I’m convinced he would have found a way to keep Burnley up last season had he stayed), and I think he’ll find a way to push Bolton toward the middle of the pack. They were one of only four Premiership clubs to have a losing home record last season (Portsmouth, Hull, and Wolves were the others), and Coyle will almost certainly turn that stat around at the Reebok.
Well, it turns out that Elmander, to the tune of 9 goals, as Bolton has scored more times than anyone but Manchester United and Chelsea this season. Coyle has put his turncoat past behind him, and should probably win Manager of the Year for the first half fairly easily. How are Bolton able to score so much? Well, for one, they have played very direct (which must make Sam Allardyce smile somewhere), allowing a rejuvenated (or juvenated) Elmander to run wild. Kevin Davies has added 7 goals in the Tim Cahill I’m short I’ll scored headed goals anyway role.
In the back, Gary Cahill has emerged as one of the Premier League’s best, while Stuart Holden and Fabrice Muamba have to be in the consideration for the EPL’s best central midfield duo. No one predicted that a few months back, and the credit has to go to Coyle.
Preseason best new signing:
Martin Petrov – He’s been solid, while not spectacular for Bolton this season, scoring 3 times and adding 2 assists in 18 appearances. He is aging a bit, but he’s a solid guy to have around if you need him, another player that Coyle can use for much-needed depth.
Preseason key player:
Kevin Davies – He’s started all 21 league games despite his advanced age (33), and you can laugh at his league-leading (again) 68 fouls and 5 yellow cards (he’s getting toward a record number of career fouls that probably won’t be caught, isn’t he?), but – while they straddle the line between tough and dirty – provide an invaluable service to Bolton as a pest that makes life difficult for opposing defenders. They wouldn’t be as good without him.
Key player now:
Stuart Holden – USA, USA! National team fans (and Bob Bradley) can give Coyle credit for filling one of the holes in the lineup as we embark on the road to Brazil 2014. Holden is the textbook definition of a box-to-box midfielder for Bolton this season, and currently leads the league in tackles attempted. He covers enough ground to help the people around him, and has been a joy to watch, just like his team.
Inside the numbers:
3 – Number of goals Elmander scored last season for Bolton, as they struggled for much of the campaign. His emergence as a goal-scoring threat has been another of the big surprises from Bolton this season.
Outlook: The defense still has its problems (I’m not impressed by Jussi Jaaskelainen), and if they get a big enough offer for Cahill this month, he’s probably gone. But there have been very few outings where Bolton doesn’t look like getting points, and that trend is sure to continue.