OK so Bruce, Quinn and Ellis continue to dip into the transfer market to strengthen our miniscule squad from last season. Last year saw a very good first team, pushing for Europe, flounder and implode due to an unprecedented number of long term injuries to key personnel. Proof, if ever it was needed, that a good 'second string' is essential if we are to genuinely compete in the upper reaches of the EPL.
We are blessed to have one of the most competitive, fast paced and toughest leagues in the world but if you don't have players to step into the breach as and when required to do so, then your team is always going to struggle. 38 league games and 2 cup competitions, often played within days of each other at times to accommodate TV audiences and Christmas periods, can take their toll on players.
So how do we fair up at the moment, with a view to having adequate cover in the squad for each position on the field? I have taken the liberty to suggest a 'best' starting 11, based on a 4-4-2 formation (I know, I apologise) and looked at who we have available should our first choice be unavailable to play.
GK Options: Gordon, Mignolet, Westwood
My 1st Choice: Gordon. Verdict: Perhaps our strongest position in terms of ability and cover, I'd have faith in all 3 stepping between the sticks. I still consider Gordon our best keeper but injuries mean he often does not get the chance to play over sustained periods of time. Mignolet was a good stand-in and Westwood should raise the bar even higher for competition.
LB Options: Bardo, Richardson, Elmo
My 1st Choice: Bardo. Verdict: Bardo was player of the season in a position he was not used to playing in. That said, I see no reason we he should not be allowed to make LB his position from here on in. Let's be honest LB is one of our weakest positions - all 3 can do a job of some description but if I was a marauding right winger I'd fancy my chances against all 3. News that O'Shea may soon be joining us would immediately cement his place at LB and I pray to god it happens as he would provide experience and ability to the squad. I'd also like to see us try for Warnock.
CB Options: Turner, Bramble, Ferdinand
My 1st Choice pairing: Turner and Bramble. Verdict: Bramble was immense last season and his injury coincided with our dip in form - would be my first name on the teamsheet. Turner is good but again very injury prone - looks like he could be a great player but every time he starts to look the dogs bollocks he breaks down again. I think Ferdinand is decent (can cover RB too) but again it's pretty obvious that we are under cooked in this department. Again we are being linked with Wes Brown who (like O'Shea) would be a great addition and would probably replace Turner to play alongside Bramble.
RB Options: Tempted to put whoever's left standing? Bardsley, Ferdinand, Angeleri?
My 1st Choice: Ferdinand (assuming Bardo is still at LB) Verdict: As for Angeleri - well I've little to say on that one. If we did secure O'Shea and Brown then I'd switch Bardo to RB at the expense of Ferdinand who would be a good back-up.
LM Options: Elmo, Richardson, Larsson, Sessegnon
My 1st Choice: The new boy Larsson. Verdict: Looks like a great freebie and at long last, a player capable of delivering set-pieces that beat the first defender. Elmo and Ricco are adequate back-ups but don't really want to see Sess being wasted out wide. I think this is an area we look ok at to be honest (despite most fans insisting we need N'Zogbia - an undoubted talent but with an ego the size of his wage demands).
CM Options: Cattermole, Gardner, Colback, Meyler, Steed, Riveros
My 1st Choice pairing: Gardner and Cattermole. Verdict: We seem to be strong in the central midfield area (which more than justifies the sale of Henderson for a good price which has helped the strengthening in other areas). I like the look of Gardner and hopefully he will add some much needed goals from midfield (something sadly lacking last season), my second choice was not so straight forward but if Cattermole is fit and on his game then he is a great asset - but must use his head with regards to bookings. Colback looked great last season and I've high hopes, whilst a fit-again Meyler will also provide strong competition for a starting berth.
RM Options: Steed, Sessegnon, Wickham
My 1st Choice: Steed. Verdict: Steed has the skills but not the speed or legs to be a viable option. I think Bruce will try to use new boy Connor Wickham out wide right, cutting in to the centre for goal scoring opportunities but if I'm honest I don't know enough about him to know whether he would/should replace Steed. Again I'd prefer to see Sess more central than wide right. Possibly an area to strengthen?
CF Options: Gyan, Sessegnon, Wickham, Ji, Campbell
My 1st Choice pairing: Gyan with Sess just behind. Verdict: An abundance of skill, speed and technical ability from them both, a match for any defence when played correctly. Wickham and Ji will provide stiff competition but Campbell is out again with injury and I expect it will take a good few months for Ji to settle in. Rumours of Wellbeck joining again on loan would be welcome but hopefully we have enough firepower with the latest additions to more than get by this season.
So there we have it, for my much will depend on the signing of O'Shea and Brown to provide us with a squad strong enough to compete for the duration of next season. Take them out of the equation and you have to say we look very week defensively speaking. I think we already have a stronger squad than we started last season with in terms of quality of players and with a few more destined to come through the doors I'm already excited and positive for a good season. I'm predicting another top-half finish - probably 8th, and to be honest I'd be happy with that!
Feel free to leave your thoughts and comments, apologies if I've missed anyone out and I acknowledge I have not included our youth players or reserve squad (hopefully many of which we can offload). I also apologise for stating a 4-4-2 formation but for the ease of analysing the squad it made sense to do so.