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50-50: Liverpool vs. Real Madrid

Champions League 16 hours ago
Read
Aug 8, 2008

Pompey set sail for Europe

It would be churlish in the extreme to say that the 2007/08 season was anything other than a glorious success for Portsmouth as the club finished in the top half of the Premier League table, won the FA Cup for the first time since 1939 and in-so-doing qualified for the UEFA Cup.

The frustration for some observers was the way in which the club seemingly took its foot off the gas in the latter part of the season. After beating West Bromwich Albion in the FA Cup semi-final on April 5, Pompey took just four points from their remaining six league games and finished the season in 8th place.

As it turned out the club's decision to coast to the end of the campaign had no ill-effect on their tilt at Wembley glory, but for some fans and observers it was galling to watch a talented team approach their final league fixtures in a manner which smacked of indifference.

Had Pompey's trip to Wembley in May ended in defeat the club would have missed out on their very first European adventure and made their approach to the last few weeks of the season appear complacent at best.

The challenge for the coming campaign will be to ensure that they can maintain their collective form and fitness as they seek to better their performances in the league and give a good showing in the UEFA Cup. It would be a pity if the club put the bread and butter of the Premier League ahead of the chance for success in a European competition which can at times appear little more than a drain on resources.

The man charged with striking the balance between the forthcoming domestic and European objectives is Harry Redknapp, a manager long under-rated and who is finally enjoying both plaudits and success.

Such has been Redknapp's impact at Fratton Park that in recent seasons his name has been linked with a variety of vacant managerial positions at larger, more high profile clubs. An example of this came midway through the 2007/08 campaign when he was offered the chance to replace Sam Allardyce at Newcastle United.

Frustratingly for Redknapp though, he has also been linked in recent years with allegations of corruption in football. In November 2007 his house was raided and he was arrested, and although charges were never made, some observers contend that the incident directly resulted in the FA's decision not to consider him as successor to Steve McClaren for the England job.

England's loss was Portsmouth's gain and with a contract until 2011 there is no sign of Redknapp slowing down; despite the obvious attraction of bowing out at the top having won the FA Cup, Harry ruled it out.

The closed season did not see much in the way of transfer activity coming into the club with Peter Crouch's £11million signature the only high-profile acquisition.

The addition of Crouch to a forward line already boasting the speed and finishing skills of Jermain Defoe will give Pompey fans hope that they have a pairing capable of providing considerable firepower, not to mention a possible England strike partnership.

The addition of Glen Little from relegated Reading and Ben Sahar on a season-long loan from Chelsea augments the existing Pompey squad, but does little else.

On the debit side, the loss of Sulley Muntari from the midfield engine room will be felt in the first few months of the season. Strong, fast, indefatigable and not afraid to shoot from range, Muntari is a major loss and that he was signed by Jose Mourinho for Serie A champions Inter Milan only serves to underline his calibre.

However, that is not say Portsmouth are not without their strengths, in fact Portsmouth boast one of the strongest, most well-balanced squads in the Premier League.

In goalkeeper David James, Pompey have one of the most experienced players in the league and one of the best stoppers in the history of English football. Much-maligned for increasingly rare mistakes, James is - for most pundits - the best keeper in the Premier League and the stalwart of many fantasy football sides.

In front of James, Redknapp has assembled one of the strongest defences in the country which last season conceded just 40 goals in the Premier League. From right to left Glen Johnson, Sol Campbell, Sylvain Distin and Herman Hreidarsson comprise a formidable first choice back-line which boasts speed and height in equal measure.

In the middle of the park Pompey have struck a fine balance between international class creative and defensive players; for example Croatian Niko Kranjcar provides the attacking outlet while France's Lassana Diarra provides cover in a holding position.

With considerable strength in depth Portsmouth can look forward to a promising season and look capable of mounting a serious challenge for UEFA Cup glory provided the squad can remain fit.

If injuries threaten the squad Harry will surely be pragmatic enough to take the tough decision to rest his better players when European nights come around preferring to save them for the league campaign.

A finish worse than 10th would represent a considerable disappointment for the club which has enjoyed steady progress in recent years, while anything better than 8th will provide the club with their best top flight finish since the 1950s.


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