Whisper the names. Quietly, to yourself. Not too loud. We've seen what hubris can do to clubs in England's second division. Still, just say them. Ssshhhhhhhh, not to loud. Roll it around in your mouth.
Think of the left wing, where leading goalscorer Chris Eagles will be running at opposing fullbacks. Picture the early season Eagles, the late season Eagles, but not the middle. Dougie Freedman, as well as he has done in his brief managerial career. does still have things to learn. Most notable, the science (and art) of squad rotation. And Chris Eagles is example 1A. Eagles has always been inconsistent, runs of great form surrounded by (longer) runs of disinterest. Last season He seemed to have finally (at age 27) found the level of focus needed to take the next step in his development. But he is still not that big a lad. And he is certainly not what one would call strong. He just played too much. It was only after he was given a break in the spring that he rediscovered his form, just in time for the final, desperate playoff push.
And the right wing? Oh, the right wing. Finally, mercifully, Chung-Yong Lee has returned. Two years on from his horrific leg break, the Korean is ready to reclaim his place among the elite. We finally saw the form, the confidence, the pace, the technique, all come together in the late stages of last season. I am expecting a huge performance from Chungy this time around.
Backing Lee and Eagles up will be the young trio of Chris Lester, Zach Clough, and the newly signed Rob Hall. THis is a bit of a risk, the three combined for one appearance last season, Hall's ill-fated start in the final match. Given that Eagles and Lee are two of Bolton's most talented (and most generously compensated) players, this is understandable.
Then we get to the middle. It's a premiership middle to be honest. But don't say that too loudly. There is talent, versatility, and depth. Unfortunately, there are also injury concerns. Keith Andrews, Mark Davies, Josh Vela, and of course, Stu Holden, are all recovering from injuries, most of them long term and quite serious. Andrews, limited as he is, does yeomen's work in the engine room. He is back in training and should be ready for the beginning of the season.
Davies is usually outstanding for twenty minutes in the second half, and invisible for the rest of the match. But if he can ever find more consistency, he will be a really good player. It was predicted after his injury that he would be back in November, but given the massive adjustments Dougie Freedman has made to Wanderers' medical staff, that has changed to January, and could be pushed back again. Much has been written about Holden's talent, as well as what he means to Bolton Wanderers.
The wildcard is Josh Vela. He should be fit, and he should be ready. In limited action he has looked to be very complementary to Holden's abilities, and that pair may be Dougie's first choice after all is said and done. As Bolton begin their second season in the Championship the last high-salaried vestiges of the Premier League era are falling away. Developing young academy players into legitimate first team players is critical if the Trotters are to challenge for promotion this season.
All that talent, and I haven't even mentioned the duo that started a majority of the matches in the club's final, desperate promotion push; Darren Pratley and Medo Kamara. Both were very solid in deeper roles, which was expected of Medo but quite a surprise from Pratley, who had his best seasons as an attacking midfielder for Swansea. Injuries aside, this gives Dougie Freedman a stunning amount of depth in the middle of the park.
Even though Mark Davies will not be available for the first half of the season, and we are not quite sure what we will get from Stu, I did not see a midfield in our division last season that would be capable of dealing with this group at full strength. And that is the rub. This group was never at full strength last season. If they are this time around, the lofty goals of lifting the Championship Trophy and attaining automatic promotion may be within reach.