Premier League Preview – 2011/2012 (Part Four)

12 08 2011

Swansea City

Brendan Rogers has been fairly busy strengthening his squad this summer and has spent £10.2million in a bid to survive in the top flight. Rogers has spent that money on players who are more familiar with the Championship than the Premier League, though. Danny Graham has been charged with the responsibility of scoring the goals needed to survive after his £3.4million move from Watford. Wayne Routledge joins Swansea, and club number nine in the process, for a fee of £2.8million, Leroy Lita cost £1.7million from Middlesbrough whilst goalkeepers Michel Vorm (£1.5million) and Jose Moreira (£750k) join from FC Utrecht and Benfica respectively.

Brendan Rogers likes his team to play attacking football and often deploys a 4-3-3 formation. This leads to obvious comparisons to Blackpool last season. I think Swansea will begin life in the Premier League in a similar fashion too. If we look at Hull City and Blackpool, the last two Championship play-off winners before Swansea, the ‘surprise factor’ was often mentioned as a reason for their good starts. Last season I was impressed with Swansea in an attacking sense and their defensive record was the best in the Championship at home which leads me to believe they will get off to a good start this season too. A strong start and getting points on the board early is crucial for newly promoted sides. Failure to do so can lead to a long and rather miserable season.

Key Player: Scott Sinclair

Net Spend: -£10.2million

Prediction: 17th

Tottenham Hotspur

Tottenham’s quiet summer so far makes it difficult to imagine them challenging for the Champions League places this season. Brad Friedel arrived from Aston Villa and the veteran American goalkeeper signed a two-year-deal at White Hart Lane. The highly-rated Souleymane Coulibaly signed from Siena for an undisclosed fee and Cristian Ceballos joined on a free transfer from Barcelona B. Two senior members of the Spurs squad have departed with the injury-plagued Jonathan Woodgate  joining Stoke City on a free transfer whilst Jamie O’Hara turned his loan move at Wolves into a permanent deal for £3.5million.

The Luka Modric ‘saga’ continues to unfold and Tottenham need that to be resolved one way or the other before the season kicks off. Modric is an outstanding player and would be a great addition to any team. If he doesn’t want to stay at Tottenham, though, it might be best if Harry Redknapp cashes in.

The biggest problem with the Spurs squad is the lack of a top class striker. They have talent in abundance in midfield with Aaron Lennon, Tom Huddlestone, Rafael Van Der Vaart (pictured), Gareth Bale and, of course, Luka Modric all excellent at

Rafael van der Vaart

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fashioning out chances for strikers but there isn’t a striker at the club good enough to lead the line on his own and score goals on a regular basis. Jermain Defoe is still a top quality finisher but Harry Redknapp opted to play one up front for large periods of last season with Rafael Van Der Vaart deployed just behind the lone striker and Defoe isn’t equipped to play the lone role up front. Robbie Keane’s second spell at the club has been a complete disaster and he is coming ever closer to leaving the club. Peter Crouch showed signs last season that his days playing at the top level are coming to an end and Roman Pavlyuchenko has struggled to score regularly since signing from Spartak Moscow  in 2008. Pavlyuchenko’s record at Tottenham is 20 goals in 73 games; a ratio close to a goal every four games.

Tottenham have looked to ease their striker crisis on a number of occasions. Harry Redknapp lodged a bid for Andy Carroll in January before he moved to Liverpool and Fernando Llorente, Hulk and Giuseppe Rossi have all been linked with big-money moves to White Hart Lane this summer. Neither of those three are realistically likely to join Tottenham but there is someone who appears to be close to agreeing a season-long deal to return to north London. That man is Emmanuel Adebayor. Adebayor, whilst not a popular figure among the Tottenham faithful, is the type of player Tottenham need if they are to continue with a 4-2-3-1 formation. He is comfortable leading the line on his own and the service provided from a creative midfield should ensure that he is a success for Tottenham this season.

Tottenham’s rivals have spent considerable amounts of money this summer and unless they bring in reinforcements before the transfer window slams shut on the 1st September, it’s  hard to imagine they will keep up with the rest of the teams aiming to secure Champions League football.

Key Player: Rafael Van Der Vaart

Net Spend: +£3.5million

Prediction: 6th

West Bromwich Albion

Roy Hodgson has done a good job at West Brom since replacing Roberto Di Matteo as manager in February this year. He safely guided The Baggies to 11th place last season and will hope to build on that finish this season. He has added to his squad with the record signing of Shane Long for an initial fee of £4.4million and Ben Foster could turn out to be the bargain of the season after his switch from rivals Birmingham City for just £970k. Boaz Myhill joined Birmingham on loan as part of that deal. Zoltan Gera has returned to the club where he made his name in England, leaving Fulham on a free transfer.

West Brom have a decent squad and one which should have no problems in surviving in the Premier League again this season. There is a worry that West Brom’s defence remains somewhat suspect and there have not been any defensive reinforcements so far. However, the influential Chris Brunt has remained at the club and so have Youssouf Mulumbu, Graham Dorrans and Peter Odemwingie. The retention of these key players coupled with the additions of Foster and Long should inspire belief that West Brom can secure another mid-table finish this season.

Key Player: Chris Brunt

Net Spend: -£3.4million

Prediction: 13th

Wigan Athletic

Wigan Athletic continue to defy the odds by establishing themselves as a Premier League club, having remained in the top flight since promotion was won in 2005.  They narrowly escaped relegation last season but this summer’s transfer activity points to another season in a relegation battle. Ali Al-Habsi impressed enough on loan last season to earn a permanent deal and Oman’s number 1 joins The Latics for £3.7million. David Jones joins on a free transfer from Wolves and the pair are the only signings made by Roberto Martinez this summer.

Charles N’Zogbia is arguably the biggest reason Wigan are still a Premier League club. His goals and assists proved just enough to lead Wigan to safety and earned him a transfer to Aston Villa as a result. This season, there a two players who need to perform consistently if Wigan are to have any chance of surviving again. These are Hudo Rodallega and James McCarthy. Both have been linked with moves away from the club but as the beginning of the season edges ever closer, Wigan will do everything in their power to keep the two at the club. Without N’Zogbia, though, Wigan’s fight for survival has been made all the more difficult and this could be the season their Premier League journey comes to an end.

Key Player: Hugo Rodallega 

Net Spend: +£5.9million

Prediction: 18th

Wolverhampton Wanderers

Wolves begin their third successive season in the Premier League away to Blackburn Rovers and the moves made by manager Mick McCarthy in the transfer market this summer point to them surviving once more. The acquisition of Roger Johnson for £7million is very good business and Jamie O’Hara will add some much-needed creativity to Wolves’ midfield. O’Hara was on loan at Molineux last season and has made the move permanent for £3.5million. With no high-profile departures, Wolves are in good shape for the coming season.

The defence and midfield have been strengthened this summer so it is vital that key strikers Steven Fletcher and Kevin Doyle remain fit. Both are very good, underrated players and their goals will be key for Wolves this season. The two complement each other very well and should become a good partnership if McCarthy plays two strikers.

Wayne Hennessey has established himself as McCarthy’s number 1 goalkeeper which means there is a strong spine to the team in Hennessey, Johnson, O’Hara, Fletcher and Doyle. If all five remain fit and in form, Wolves should enjoy a successful season.

Key Player: Kevin Doyle

Net Spend: -£9.6million

Prediction: 15th

Predicted Table

1- Manchester United

2- Chelsea

3- Manchester City

4- Liverpool

5- Arsenal

6- Tottenham Hotspur

7- Aston Villa

8- Sunderland

9- Everton

10- Stoke City

11- Bolton Wanderers

12- Fulham

13- West Bromwich Albion

14- Newcastle United

15- Wolverhampton Wanderers

16- Blackburn Rovers

17- Swansea City

18-Wigan Athletic

19- Queens Park Rangers

20- Norwich City

All transfer fees correct according to the excellent TransferMarkt. Don’t believe the exaggerated fees you see in newspapers and on Sky Sports News!

Click here for Part One

Click here for Part Two

Click here for Part Three





Premier League Preview – 2011/2012 (Part Three)

11 08 2011
English football (soccer) player Joey Barton

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Newcastle United

Newcastle United appear to be coming close to turmoil once more under Mike Ashley’s leadership (or lack of). As we all know, on January transfer deadline day Andy Carroll was sold to Liverpool for a staggering £35million. With no time to find a replacement, Mike Ashley explained on record in an attempt to appease disgruntled, yet loyal, fans that all the money would be available for Alan Pardew to spend this summer. So far, Newcastle have spent just £7.3million on Yohan Cabaye (£4.4million), which is terrific business considering how impressive he was for Lille last year, and £2.9million on Manchester United flop Gabriel Obertan who has been given a five-year-deal. Pardew has continued his French Revolution by signing Demba Ba (yes, I know he plays for Senegal!) on a free transfer and former Rennes winger Sylvain Marveaux, also on a free transfer.

Incidentally, Newcastle have sold former captain Kevin Nolan to West Ham for £2.9million. Nolan became frustrated at St. James’ Park after he was refused a new and improved five-year-deal, the same length given to boss Alan Pardew and Gabriel Obertan by Mike Ashley. Football’s youngest journeyman Wayne Routledge has joined his ninth professional club in Swansea City for £2.2million and Jose Enrique’s refusal to sign a new contract has led him to also grow disillusioned with life on Tyneside. A £6million move to Liverpool appears to be nearing completion. There’s not much time left remaining for Alan Pardew to spend the Andy Carroll transfer kitty.

Newcastle’s woes have continued as Joey Barton (pictured) joined Jose Enrique by taking to his keyboard and launching a scathing attack on his employers. Subsequently, Barton has been told he can leave the club on a free transfer. The departure of experienced players will do little to help Newcastle improve on last season’s respectable 12th place finish. Their squad is not as good as the one which was relegated in 2009 but it is better than six or seven in the Premier League. As long as Mike Ashley is chairman of Newcastle United, Premier League survival should be the realistic aim for the Toon Army.

Key Player: Yohan Cabaye

Net Spend: -£1.5million

Prediction: 14th

Norwich City

Norwich City’s remarkable rise from League 1 to the Premier League in just two seasons is an outstanding achievement. It is the first time a team has won back-to-back promotions to the top flight since Joe Royle accomplished the same feat with Manchester City in 2000.

Since losing 7-1 at home to Colchester on the opening day of the 2009/2010 League 1 season, Paul Lambert has made himself a hero at Carrow Road and there is plenty of reason to be optimistic with him leading Norwich in the top flight for the first time since 2005.  That said, with optimism should come caution as Norwich have spent just £6.9million on players mainly associated with teams plying their trade outside the top flight. James Vaughan does have Premier League experience with Everton and he joined Norwich this summer for £2million. Wales international Steve Morison has enjoyed a rapid rise to the top flight of his own after spending five years playing non-league football with Bishop’s Stortford and Stevenage Borough before signing for Millwall in 2009. He joins Norwich this summer from Championship side Millwall in a deal worth £2.4million. Bradley Johnson is the last of the permanent signings at Carrow Road and he signed on a free transfer from Leeds United.

Paul Lambert turned his attention to the best of what League 1 had to offer by quickly signing Elliot Bennett from Champions Brighton and Hove Albion for a fraction under £1.5million and Anthony Pilkington for £970k from Huddersfield Town. Pilkington, much like Steve Morison, is also familiar with non-league football after he spent a short time with Atherton Collieries following his release from Blackburn Rovers in 2006. Youngsters Kyle Naughton and Ritchie De Laet have joined The Canaries on season-long loan deals from Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United respectively.

If Norwich can bring in one or two more proven Premier League players they might have a chance of avoiding relegation.  As it stands, it’s difficult to imagine Norwich City as a Premier League side when the 2012/2013 season begins.

Prediction: 20th

Net Spend: -£6.9million

Key Player: Grant Holt

Queens Park Rangers:

QPR have added to their squad with one or two decent signings but it has been a relatively quiet summer at Loftus Road. Neil Warnock has mainly signed unattached players as they prepare to battle for Premier League survival. Jay Bothroyd, Daniel Gabbidon, Kieron Dyer and Brian Murphy have all joined QPR on free transfers whilst DJ Campbell has returned to the club he joined as a six-year-old after completing a £1.7million move from Blackpool. Bothroyd and Campbell should make a decent partnership should Warnock opt to play two strikers.

QPR have so far managed to retain the services of their gifted, but somewhat erratic, captain Adel Taarabt and cultured Argentinian midfielder Alejandro Faurlin which offers hope to Rangers’ fans in an attacking sense.  Defensively, Warnock’s side seems a bit thin in terms of numbers and quality which will make it difficult for them over the course of a season. QPR may attempt to replicate the Blackpool model by aiming to outscore their opposition so expect to see them involved in a number of high-scoring games but, ultimately, their fate will likely be the same as Blackpool’s last season and relegation beckons.

Prediction: 19th

Net Spend: £-1.7million

Key Player: Adel Taarabt

Stoke City

Tony Pulis has yet to spend a penny in transfer fees this summer but he has snapped up released former England defenders Jonathan Woodgate and Matthew Upson. Woodgate joins on a pay-as-you-play deal which could prove to be a masterstroke by Pulis as the former Tottenham defender’s quality is there for all to see. Pulis is reportedly in negotiations with Tottenham over the signing of Honduras grafter Wilson Palacios whilst Peter Crouch is still on his radar.

Stoke have become a team with a reputation for their in-your-face attitude and they are incredibly difficult to beat at the Britannia Stadium. Whilst their style of play isn’t always one for the purists they play to their strengths and that has seen them establish themselves as a Premier League side and they can also look forward to European football this season. Pulis has gradually assembled a squad capable of handling the rigours of playing twice a week.

Europa League qualifiers leave Stoke’s players match fit and in great condition as they prepare to host Chelsea on Sunday. Whilst it’s difficult to imagine Stoke remaining in Europe as the season draws to a close, their fans should be optimistic about enjoying another successful in the Premier League and building on last season’s 13th place finish.

Prediction: 10th

Net Spend: +£250k

Key Player: Ryan Shawcross

Sunderland

Sunderland have had the busiest summer of any Premier League team in terms of comings-and-goings. Steve Bruce has wisely spent the £15.8million fee received for Jordan Henderson by bringing in a blend of experienced players and highly rated youngsters for the future.  John O’Shea (£3.9million) and Wes Brown (£1.3million) should prove to be good signings so Bruce has done very well to acquire the pair for relatively little money. Ahmed Elmohamady impressed enough during his loan spell last season to convince Bruce to sign him permanently in a deal worth £2.2million to his former club Enppi.

Bruce turned his sights to bolstering his midfield by signing two of the most sought after free transfers in the country in Seb Larsson and David Vaughan who impressed for Blackpool last season. Former Coventry goalkeeper Kieran Westwood has also made the move to the Wearside on a free transfer. Craig Gardner will add some creativity to Sunderland’s midfield and his eye for goal convinced Bruce to splash out £5.8million on the man who finished as Birmingham City’s top scorer last season.

Chairman Niall Quinn opened his chequebook again by signing youngster Connor Wickham for an initial fee of £7.9million from Ipswich Town and one-time Reading man Ji Dong-Won joins for £2.1million from K-League side Chunnam Dragons.

The squad overhaul has been completed by moving on six players who featured regularly in the first team last season. Jordan Henderson’s transfer has already been mentioned and John Mensah has joined Lyon on loan, Bolo Zenden has been released at his own request, Cristian Riveros has ended his unhappy spell in England by joining Turkish side Kayserispor,  Steed Malbranque has ended his ten-year spell in the English top flight by signing for France’s most successful club Saint-Étienne and George McCartney has ended his second spell with Sunderland by returning to West Ham United for a second spell.

Asamoah Gyan has remained at the club and he is pivotal to this team. He is the only striker at the club who has proved he belongs in the top flight. The biggest problem Steve Bruce might have will be getting his new signings to gel together as a team. Such overhauls to first teams are rare in football so it will be interesting to see how well Bruce fares. He has spent £23million in a bid to improve Sunderland’s on-pitch fortunes after a disappointing end to the previous campaign.

Key Player: Asamoah Gyan

Net Spend: £-7.8million

Prediction: 8th

All transfer fees correct according to the excellent TransferMarkt. Don’t believe the exaggerated fees you see in newspapers and on Sky Sports News!

Click here for Part One

Click here for Part Two





Premier League Preview – 2011/2012 (Part Two)

10 08 2011

Everton

Everton are the only team out of the 92 in the football league who have not signed a player on a permanent basis.  Youngster Eric Dier, an Englishman with Portuguese dual-nationality, has joined on a second loan spell from Sporting Lisbon whilst James Vaughan has joined Norwich City for £2million. That is the end of the transfer dealings at Goodison Park this summer so far.

Everton have a good youth academy, and they’ve needed it, which has seen Jack Rodwell slot into the team well in previous seasons and this campaign could also see Jose Baxter and the highly-rated Ross Barkley feature regularly for the first team due to having such a small squad. The loss of the impressive Seamus Coleman for six months with an ankle ligament injury is a big blow for Everton. Coleman picked up the injury courtesy of an awful tackle by Villarreal’s Carlos Marchena in a pre-season friendly. Versatile players such as Coleman are vital to teams like Everton.

Evertonians must hope key players Mikel Arteta and Jack Rodwell have the worst of their injury woes behind them and remain injury-free this season and the returning Yakubu is still good enough to score goals at this level. On paper, Everton’s first XI is reasonably strong and David Moyes is perfectly capable of over-achieving like he has many times before.

Key Player: Tim Cahill

Net Spend: +£2million

Prediction: 9th

Fulham

Last season Mark Hughes continued Roy Hodgson’s good work from the previous campaign and both men have left a good set of players behind and a structure in place for Martin Jol to build upon.  A quiet summer of transfer activity so far has seen John Arne Riise and Patjim Kasami come in as the most notable signings. Will these signings be enough to see Fulham continue the good work started by Jol’s predecessors? They are certainly a good start.

Fulham’s season began on 30th June in the Europa League qualifiers so they should be fully prepared and match fit come the start of the Premier League season. The concern could be that a lengthy run in the Europa League might see Fulham end the season in a similar fashion to when they reached the Europa League final in 2010. I can’t see Fulham being dragged anywhere near the relegation zone but another mid-table finish beckons.

Key Player: Clint Dempsey

Net Spend: -£5.2million

Prediction: 12th

Liverpool

Liverpool have spent a sizeable amount so far and there’s every indication that one or two more signings are still to come. Having just a net spend of £2million in January due to the sales of Fernando Torres and Ryan Babel counter-acting the fees paid for Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez, Liverpool have signalled their intent on finishing in the top four this season by splashing out heavily with a net spend of £41million on Jordan Henderson for an initial fee of £15.8million, Charlie Adam for £7.3million and Stewart Downing for £20million. Brazil goalkeeper Doni joined from AS Roma on a free transfer to act as understudy to Pepé Reina.

Have Liverpool spent too much on Henderson and Downing? Many would argue, yes. I, however, disagree. Many still judge a player in today’s market by the fees associated with players of a similar calibre from previous years. The Transfer Price Index offers an excellent insight into this. Jordan Henderson, Phil Jones, Romelu Lukaku and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are the very latest signings to support the argument.

Strong financial backing by Liverpool’s American owners means the squad has been strengthened and a top four finish is a must. The signings of Adam and Downing will offer Liverpool something which has been lacking since Xabi Alonso, and probably Steve McManaman, left the club; a deep-lying playmaker in Adam and a genuine winger in Downing. Whilst comparisons are never helpful it is understandable to see why they are often made. In an attacking sense, there are plenty of options available to Kenny Dalglish. A front three from Luis Suarez, Andy Carroll, Dirk Kuyt and Stewart Downing supported by three from, assuming they all remain with the club, Lucas Leiva, Steven Gerrard, Alberto Aquilani, Raul Meireles, Charlie Adam, Jay Spearing, Jonjo Shelvey and Jordan Henderson means we should expect plenty of goals from Liverpool.

The biggest problem I foresee for Liverpool is the same problem I foresee for Arsenal and that is the defence. Liverpool conceded 15 goals in 6 pre-season games and whilst it is important to retain perspective and not jump to conclusions based on pre-season results, it’s hard to disagree that the defence could be Liverpool’s Achilles heel. With the end of the transfer window drawing ever closer, it could be that whoever out of Liverpool and Arsenal brings in the best defensive reinforcements has the edge in the quest to finish in the top four.

At right-back, Glen Johnson, Martin Kelly and even John Flanagan provides me with no worries, but the rest of the defence could be exploited, particularly if injuries occur. Daniel Agger and Fabio Aurelio are very suspect to injury which is a shame as few doubt their ability. A full season from these two would leave Liverpool fans with few worries. Jamie Carragher isn’t getting any younger but his experience is crucial in bringing through young players such as Martin Kelly, John Flanagan, Jack Robinson, Andre Wisdom and Stephen Sama. Unfortunately, the signs are there to suggest that Carragher is on the decline. For me, Martin Skrtel isn’t good enough and Sotirios Kyrgiakos is a mix of the two aforementioned; he’s not getting any younger and he’s no longer good enough. Scott Dann appears likely to join Arsenal leaving Liverpool to look elsewhere for defensive reinforcements but José Enrique appears to be edging ever closer to signing for Liverpool to compete with Fabio Aurelio and Emiliano Insua for the left-back berth, assuming the latter remains at the club.

This is a big season for Liverpool. The realistic aim is to get back into the Champions League whilst bringing through the young players needed to enable a title challenge in the coming seasons.

Key Player: Luis Suarez

Net Spend: -£41million

Prediction: 4th

Manchester City

Manchester City enjoyed a reasonably successful season last term. Their first major trophy since 1976 has given the City faithful reason to be optimistic this season. City has continued to spend heavily this summer. A net spend of £46.6million, more than any other Premier League club, has been invested to ensure they strongly challenge for the Premier League and the Champions League this season. Sergio Aguero was signed from Atletico Madrid for £39.5million, highly-rated defender Stefan Savic cost £10.5million from Serbian outfit Partizan Belgrade, Gael Clichy switched allegiance from Arsenal for £6.8million and Costel Pontilimon is moving to England from Romanian side Politehnica Timisoara for £5.7million, replacing Shay Given as Joe Hart’s understudy.

Manchester City were outclassed by rivals Manchester United in the Community Shield.

Carlos Tévez playing for Manchester City

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From 2-0 up, United showed their class and resilience by pulling the game back to 2-2 early in the second half. Roberto Mancini’s tactics and choice of substitution were particularly baffling. When chasing a winning goal, Mancini sent Gareth Barry and Gael Clichy on to the field. I have my doubts as to whether Mancini is the man to deliver the Premier League title to Eastlands for the first time.

The Carlos Tevez saga (pictured with his bulldog like approach) continues to rumble on and that needs to be resolved one way or the other. Nobody can deny the talent City have in their squad. On paper, they’re as good as any side. Unfortunately for City, football isn’t played on paper and question marks remain about the temperament of some of their players and the seemingly lack of team spirit. I expect the league to be very tight at the top so the fixtures between the top sides are crucial; the team who amasses the most points from those games will, in my opinion, win the league. I don’t think City are quite ready this season but they should fare well in the cup competitions.

Key Player: David Silva

Net Spend: -£46million

Prediction: 3rd

Manchester United

Manchester United have had a solid pre-season and Sir Alex Ferguson has shown signs of building yet another side capable of dominating for years to come. The average age of  United’s team in the second half (prior to Dimitar Berbatov’s five-minute cameo) of the Community Shield match against Manchester City was just 22 years old. £50.4million has been spent on David de Gea (£17.6million), Phil Jones (£16.9million) and Ashley Young (£15.8million) to ensure they remain as dangerous as ever with £10.1million being recouped from the sales of John O’Shea, Wes Brown, Gabriel Obertan and a handful of young players. The emergence of youth products Danny Welbeck and Tom Cleverley ensures there is a healthy competition for places at Old Trafford to enable a sustained challenge on all fronts for the coming season. Sir Alex Ferguson is laying down the foundations and building another squad that can be successful long after he retires.

Paul Scholes and Edwin Van der Sar have retired and the departures of John O’Shea, Wes Brown and Owen Hargreaves means a lot of experience has left the United squad this summer. It remains to be seen if United struggle in the way that Chelsea struggled in the previous season when a number of experienced players left for pastures new.  It’s impossible to replace Scholes; he’s one of the Premier League’s best ever players. That said, it’s a big season for the current crop of United stars and someone needs to step out of the shadows in an attempt to fill the void left by Scholes’ retirement. A stand-out season could lie in wait for Anderson. He’s shown in short spells the quality he has but now he needs to add consistency to his game. It could be a make-or-break season for the 23-year-old Brazilian.

Javier Hernández will prove to be an indispensable member of the first-team squad and I’m sure he’ll build on his terrific début season. A strike partnership with Wayne Rooney has the makings of being as good as any around and the two are vital to any success United can hope to have.

Key Player: Javier Hernández

Net Spend: -£40.2million

Prediction: 1st

All transfer fees correct according to the excellent TransferMarkt. Don’t believe the exaggerated fees you see in newspapers and on Sky Sports News!





Premier League Preview – 2011/2012 (Part One)

9 08 2011

We are less than a week away from the start of another Premier League season and it can’t start soon enough. Whilst the Women’s World Cup, youth level World Cups and youth level European Championships have provided ample viewing over the summer, nothing comes close to the excitement felt at the beginning of a new league campaign.

The summer transfer window has been a relatively busy one so far which suggests we are in for another compelling and competitive season. The Premier League’s expenditure (at the time of writing) stands at £303.2million, second only behind Serie A whose expenditure is £334million. The net spend, however, offers a totally different outlook with the Premier League’s net spend standing at -£155million with its nearest rival, the Bundesliga, in second place with a net spend of just -£32million. These are the type of figures that suggest an English club has a good chance of challenging for this season’s Champions League.

Now, without further adieu, let’s analyse the first five teams for the coming Premier League season.

Arsenal

Arsenal have experienced a miserable 2011 so far. The Carling Cup final defeat against Birmingham was the beginning of the slide which saw their League and Champions League hopes dashed before finishing the season, which offered so much early promise, in a disappointing 4th position. Their troubles appear to have continued during the close-season with the departures of captain Cesc Fabregas and the influential Samir Nasri edging ever closer. Factor in a tricky Champions League qualifier against Italy’s Udinese and Arsene Wenger has plenty of food for thought. Wenger’s first major foray into the transfer market was to secure the signature of Ivorian winger Gervinho in a deal worth £10.5million and, yesterday, he completed the transfer of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain from Southampton for an initial £12.1million. Are his two new signings adequate replacements for Fabregas and Nasri? Absolutely not. They are good signings nonetheless and it will be interesting to see how often they are utilised this season.

The main problem I see for Arsenal is their defensive frailties. Thomas Vermaelen is a terrific defender but he has

Photo of footballer Kieran Gibbs

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picked up another injury during a pre-season friendly which leaves Wenger to pick two from Laurent Koscielny, Johan Djourou and Sébastien Squillaci. None of those three are good enough for Arsenal. There is, of course, still time for Arsenal to beef up their defence and there have been a plethora of names linked with Gary Cahill and Phil Jagielka regularly mentioned.

It’s not just the centre of Arsenal’s defence which needs strengthening. Gael Clichy’s move to Manchester City means the injury-prone Kieran Gibbs (pictured) and returning loanee Armand Traore, if he remains with the club, will be fighting to fill the void and, in my opinion, Gibbs isn’t quite ready to handle the rigours of playing week-in, week-out at the highest level and Traore simply isn’t good enough.

There are a few positives for Arsenal fans this season. Jack Wilshere will continue to blossom and I expect Aaron Ramsey to make a big impact too. He’s a class individual with an eye for goal which should compliment the skills of Alex Song and Jack Wilshere perfectly. Avoiding injuries to key players such as Robin van Persie is of the utmost importance; the squad is not packed with quality and a prolonged spell on the sidelines for van Persie will be a bitter blow to their chances.

Key Man: Robin van Persie

Net Spend: -£15.7million

Prediction: 5th.

Aston Villa

Aston Villa have experienced a busy summer of comings and goings. Alex McLeish left bitter rivals Birmingham City to replace Gérard Houllier as manager and the playing staff has undergone a radical overhaul too. Villa have lost plenty of experienced players this summer with just two signings coming in. Ashley Young and Stewart Downing both left the club for big-money moves to Manchester United and Liverpool respectively, whilst the experienced quartet of Robert Pirès, Brad Friedel, Nigel Reo-Coker and John Carew all left the club on free transfers.

The incoming transfers should excite the Villa faithful despite the outgoings. £9.5million man Charles N’Zogbia was instrumental in leading Wigan Athletic to safety last season and without his goals and assists, it is highly likely they would be playing Championship football this season.  Shay Given is the other signing made by McLeish this season and he replaces the veteran American Brad Friedel who joined Tottenham Hotspur. Given’s acquisition is a very shrewd move. He’s consistently proved to be one of the best goalkeepers in the Premier League and, at 35 years old, offers plenty of experience to a side with a good balance of youth and experience. Given was signed for £3.3million and could prove to be one of the best signings this summer.

Aston Villa do not have the biggest of squads so it is vital to keep their key men injury-free. The form of Darren Bent is paramount to any hope they have on improving on last season’s 9th place finish. His goals will be the difference between the Europa League places or a mid-table finish.

Key Man: Darren Bent

Net Spend: +£23.1million

Prediction: 7th

Blackburn Rovers

1995 Premier League champions Blackburn are in for a difficult season. New owners Venky’s have over-promised and under-delivered on numerous occasions. When they bought the club for £30m at the turn of the year, there was reason for optimism among the fans. The promise of David Beckham and Ronaldinho can be viewed as a publicity stunt by new owners unknown in Britain. Sacking Sam Allardyce and replacing him with the inexperienced Steve Kean was another disaster by Venky’s. It is arguably the second biggest mistake they have made. The biggest mistake can be seen here and it involves footballers and chicken. Feel free to recycle the Paul Gascoigne joke now.

Phil Jones has been sold to Manchester United for £16.9million and David Goodwillie has been brought in from Dundee United for £2million. The futures of Christopher Samba and Nikola Kalinic are still in doubt and there is a worry of where goals will come from. Junior Hoilett and David Dunn will be expected to chip-in with goals from midfield but Goodwillie, Jason Roberts and Ruben Rochina will struggle to carry the burden of leading the line and scoring the goals required to keep Blackburn away from danger.

The Blackburn defence looked shaky after Allardyce’s departure so it is important to keep hold of players like Christopher Samba. If Blackburn are to survive in the Premier League this season, Paul Robinson, Michel Salgado, Christopher Samba, Ryan Nelsen and Gael Givet need to remain fit and in top form throughout the season.

Key Player: Christopher Samba

Net Spend: +£15.2million

Prediction: 16th

Bolton Wanderers

Owen Coyle has done a terrific job since taking over from Gary Megson in 2010. Attractive football as well as a few shrewd signings have revitalised a group of players who seemed disillusioned under the previous management. Coyle has added Nigel Reo-Coker, Darren Pratley, Tyrone Mears and Chris Eagles to his ranks for a combined fee of £2.9million with Ali Al-Habsi, Matthew Taylor and Johan Elmander the most notable departures. It is the latter’s departure that could have the biggest impact on Bolton if a suitable replacement isn’t found. Elmander, along with Kevin Davies and Daniel Sturridge, formed a potent strikeforce with each striker possessing skills to complement the others. It is clear that Coyle is in the market for a striker and David Ngog, Jelle Vossen and Cameron Jerome have all been heavily linked. If a new striker can be signed and the influential Gary Cahill stays with the Trotters I fancy Bolton to achieve another respectable final position.

Key Player: Gary Cahill

Net Spend: +£3.1million

Prediction: 11th

Chelsea

Chelsea start the new season with a new manager in charge in the hope that he can deliver the Champions League for the first time in the club’s history. Andre Villas-Boas is a tactically astute young manager with a preference for the 4-3-3 formation with an attacking philosophy and his promise is clear for all to see. Ever since joining the late Sir Bobby Robson at Porto in 1994 as a 16-year-old apprentice coach, he has gone on to learn from the very best before branching out on his own to receive acclaim in his own right. Villas-Boas was sent by Robson to Lilleshall to study for his coaching badges before becoming an integral part of Robson’s youth team set-up. Villas-Boas went on to become Jose Mourinho’s opposition scout and a vital component in his backroom staff where his tactical prowess and attention to detail was key to Mourinho’s success. Fast-forward nearly two decades and Villas-Boas has won the Portuguese title and the Europa League with home-town club Porto before Chelsea met his £13million release clause to appoint him as Carlo Ancelotti’s successor.

Villas-Boas’ biggest problem will be the lack of time he will be afforded by owner Roman Abramovich. The Portuguese is under no illusions and acknowledges this to be the case. Abramovich is regularly criticised (and I’m as guilty as anybody of doing this) for the way in which he disposes of managers who have failed to win the Champions League but we must accept that this is his prerogative and part of the deal when a multi-billionaire buys a football club. It is the rough with the smooth that I’ve tweeted about many times before. He’s given Chelsea fans the billions of pounds needed to transform a mid-table club into one competing for major honours year-after-year. On the flip side, he can hire and fire whoever he wants, whenever he wants. That’s the deal on the table.

Villas-Boas has spent a sizeable amount so far. Belgian wonderkid Romelu Lukaku arrived from Anderlecht for £19.3million, Thibaut Courtois also arrived from Belgian side Genk for £7.9million and will spend the season on loan at Atletico Madrid as a replacement for Manchester United’s £17.6million new boy David de Gea, Lucas Piazon cost £6.6million from Sao Paulo and Oriol Romeu is a young defender who set the west-Londoners back £4.4million from Barcelona. The youth movement is something which was desperately needed at Stamford Bridge with many of the current first-team players on the wrong side of thirty. A blend of youth and experience should see Chelsea maintain a strong challenge on all fronts this season. Building the team around Fernando Torres is something which needs to happen; he’s a top class striker who will score goals. If Frank Lampard can remain fit for the majority of the season, Chelsea could well be the team to beat.

Key Player: Fernando Torres

Net Spend: -£17.3million

Prediction: 2nd

All transfer fees correct according to the excellent TransferMarkt. Don’t believe the exaggerated fees you see in newspapers and on Sky Sports News!





The Deadwood at Melwood

1 06 2011

A busy summer of transfer window activity is something us Liverpool fans have wished for in the last few years but, ultimately, they have been few and far between. This, of course, can be put down to the horrific running of the club by Messrs Tom Hicks and George Gillett. Fortunately, “internet terrorists” such as you and I watched as an “epic swindle” unfolded before our very eyes which saw Hicks and Gillett finally leave our shores once and for all with Boston Red Sox owners John Henry and Tom Werner becoming our new owners. “At the end of a storm, there’s a golden sky”. Thank you John and Tom for playing the part of the golden sky.

The 22nd of May 2011 saw the curtain fall on another compelling season of Premier League action and that date also meant that football fans across the globe began to impatiently wait on news of who their team will be signing for the coming season. “In the knows” have begun to link Liverpool with every player under the sun, safe in the knowledge that the law of averages will ensure they’re right at least once. Well, if you can’t beat them join them! Allow me to reveal an exclusive for you, dear reader. I have it on good authority that Liverpool will NOT be signing Lionel Messi, Lionel Richie or Lionel Blair any time soon. I feel an overwhelming sense of relief now that’s off my chest.

It is important to note that the return of Kenny Dalglish as manager also means a return of ‘The Liverpool Way’. The simple but effective implementing of “pass and move” is small evidence of the philosophy’s return on the pitch but off the pitch it signals a return to all affairs being conducted in private with little chance of details creeping out of the club until all of the I’s have been dotted and all of the T’s have been crossed. I’m sure I’m not the only one who found the ease in which one could find out information about the club shocking under Roy Hodgson’s watch. Whilst it was nice to know the starting line-ups 24 hours before kick-off, it was more shocking than it was nice. In short, don’t believe anyone who claims to be “in the know” because they’re almost certainly not.

Instead of speculating on who we might sign in the coming months, I’ll be focusing on those who should be moved on although some will definitely be up for debate. There is plenty of deadwood in the playing squad so let’s not delay any further.

Joe Cole

What has happened to Joe Cole? The imposter we had parading around as him last season bore strikingly little resemblance to the same one who was scoring the winning goal for Chelsea at Old Trafford little over one year ago. I was as excited as anyone when the news broke that Liverpool had secured the signing of Cole on a free transfer after his release from Chelsea. Now, we can see that his début was a sign of things to come and he cannot any longer justify reported wages of £90k per week when he offers so little. Whilst his technical ability has never been in doubt, his proneness to injury and lack of pace and stamina makes him expendable. Rumours have surfaced that Harry Redknapp would be interested in taking him to Tottenham. If true, which I somehow doubt, would Cole offer anything that Luka Modric, Rafael Van der Vaart or even Niko Kranjcar do not currently offer? The short answer is no. Whilst it remains unclear whether or not the Liverpool hierarchy see a future for Cole at the club, I cannot see many Liverpool fans being disappointed at the sight of Cole leaving L4 after just one season. They might, however, be disappointed that Joe Cole never reached the heights that so many had hoped he would.

Milan Jovanovic

I would be lying if I told you that I had seen much of Jovanovic prior to his arrival on a free transfer from Belgian side Standard Liege in 2010. As such, I watched Serbia’s matches at the World Cup with more than a passing interest and he seemed to be solid rather than spectacular. The highlight of his World Cup would almost certainly be scoring the winning goal against Germany in the group stage. Jovanovic seemed to posses a fair amount of pace and came to us with a decent goalscoring record of 52 goals in 116 appearances for Standard Liege. Operating primarily as a striker, it was frustrating to see him rarely deployed in this position for Liverpool. He struggled to make an impact when utilised as a left winger and the Serbian was part of the team which lost to Northampton Town in the Carling Cup. Having recently gone on record expressing his regret at signing for Liverpool, I will be astonished if he is still a Liverpool player next season. So astonished will I be, if Milan Jovanovic is still a Liverpool player next season I will erect a life-size statue of Gary Neville in my back garden and kiss its feet on a daily basis.

Sotirios Kyrgiakos

Sotirios Kyrgiakos Greece vs moldova

Image via Wikipedia

I have to say that I have been pleasantly surprised with the Greek’s two years as a Liverpool player. His size and aerial prowess instantly made many view him as Sami Hyypia‘s replacement although few expected him to succeed let alone reaching Sami’s level. Well, he didn’t reach Sami’s level (who could?) but that’s not to say he’s been a bad signing. Kyrgiakos was drafted in to the squad mainly as cover for Jamie Carragher, Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger and, more often than not, he’s done well when called upon. However, there have been signs towards the end of the current season which have suggested that Kyrgiakos’ days could be numbered. A lack of pace and agility were brutally highlighted in the away fixture against Braga in the Europa League. Kyriagkos gave away the penalty which the brilliantly named ‘Alan’ dispatched in an even more brilliant manner. It isn’t too unrealistic to imagine Kyrgiakos still being a Liverpool player next season but if another club who could offer him regular first team football showed an interest, I don’t think anyone would stand in his way from moving on.

Brad Jones

Any goalkeeper signed by Liverpool has an almost impossible task on his hands in trying to dislodge Pepe Reina as number 1. A quick look back over Brad Jones’ career shows that he seems quite content in being an understudy to someone like Reina. Jones is 29-years-old and he’s only made 99 league appearances in his career. Should he finally fancy a stint as a number 1 somewhere, I’m sure Liverpool will not stand in his way. However, Jones is a “home-grown” player, despite being an Australian international, and if he is content to play second fiddle to Reina there might be a chance he’ll stay but don’t expect Brad Jones to feature often in the starting XI.

Brad Jones is a thoroughly fine man and has campaigned endlessly in a bid to raise money and awareness for Stem Cell transplants. His son, Luca, was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukaemia but he appears to have found a match in their bid for a cure. As you can probably tell, I’m more than a little bit out my depth talking about this so click here to visit Brad’s Just Giving page and donate if you can.

Paul Konchesky

I know what you’re thinking. Is Paul Konchesky still a Liverpool player? Unfortunately, yes. I’ll keep this short and sweet as there’s not much to discuss that you don’t already know. Many fans did their best Carlo Ancelotti impressions by raising an eyebrow when Konchesky was signed by Roy Hogdson last summer. There could be no denying that a new left-back was needed, mainly because Emiliano Insua didn’t appear ready to handle the burden of playing week-in, week-out. Hopefully Insua is given another crack at succeeding at Liverpool as there’s definitely potential to be realised there. Konchesky’s position at the club wasn’t helped when his mother took to Facebook to unleash a rage-filled rant at Liverpool fans, branding them “Scouse scum”. It’s nice to know that Mother Konchesky is as good with words as Paul is with a football. An uninspiring loan spell at Nottingham Forest did little to revive Konchesky’s fortunes and it is almost certain that Paul Konchesky will leave Liverpool this summer.

Christian Poulsen

Christian Poulsen came to Liverpool with a fairly big reputation and seemed to be a decent enough replacement for Javier Mascherano. With the benefit of hindsight, such comparisons should never have been made and Poulsen never even came close to playing at the level of Mascherano. Many looked back at Poulsen’s time with Sevilla in Spain with hope as he was instrumental in seeing the Spanish club defend the UEFA Cup as well as helping them win the Copa Del Rey. The emergence of Jay Spearing has pushed Poulsen further down the pecking order and with new signings to look forward to, as well as the possibility of Alberto Aquilani returning from his loan spell at Juventus, Poulsen’s Anfield future appears to be pretty grim. Unfortunately, Poulsen struggled to adapt to the pace of the Premier League and, at the age of 31, he seems to be expendable.

Philipp Degen

Philipp Degen can be ranked alongside Joe Cole, Milan Jovanovic and Andrey Voronin as a recent free transfer flop. Degen spent last season on loan at Stuttgart and only made 5 appearances in the Bundesliga. I can’t imagine there are too many Stuttgart supporters praying his loan deal is made permanent. Degen has been blighted with injuries throughout his career and his time with Liverpool was no different. Deployed either at right-back or as a winger, Degen never showed anything to suggest he would be anything more than an average squad player. On the handful of appearances he made for the first team he seemed better going forward than he did defending. This doesn’t necessarily mean he was good going forward.

Nabil El Zhar

The diminutive Moroccan winger joined Liverpool in 2006 from French side Nîmes Olympique but, despite making 24 first team appearances, he never genuinely looked like establishing himself as a regular first team player. El Zhar spent last season on loan at Greek side PAOK where he featured 12 times in the league and scored 3 goals. El Zhar’s contract expires in 2012 so there shouldn’t be too many problems in finding a buyer for the French-born Morocco international.

The aforementioned players may not come as much of a shock as outward-bound players so let’s have a look at a few controversial suggestions of players who may move on.

Fabio Aurelio

Let me start by saying that I am a massive fan of Fabio Aurelio. Technically, he’s as good as anybody in the league. Some may think that’s hyperbole but I genuinely think he’s a very gifted footballer. Just ask Edwin Van der Sar and Petr Cech how deadly his left foot is! Unfortunately, Aurelio has suffered horrendously with injuries throughout his career, ranging from the broken leg he suffered in the 2003-2004 season with Valencia to the niggling muscle injuries frequently picked up during his time on Merseyside. It was around this time last year that Aurelio left Liverpool after rejecting a pay-as-you-play deal. Aurelio re-signed with the club just weeks later and he still has one year left on his current deal. Perhaps Aurelio will stay one more year but is hard to envisage Aurelio staying around longer than that unless he accepts a pay-as-you-play deal; the type of deal he was previously unwilling to accept. If Aurelio could overcome the constant injuries I’m sure he would become a very important player for Liverpool. Unfortunately, I think Aurelio is destined to spend the majority of his remaining career on the treatment table rather than the hallowed turf of Anfield.

Daniel Agger

I could copy the above paragraph and just substitute Fabio Aurelio’s name for Daniel Agger’s. Agger is a top-class centre-half who is comfortable on the ball and it is no surprise that Liverpool are better with Agger than they are without him. Agger is the type of player that one would imagine will work well in a Kenny Dalglish side which encourages short passing where attacks are patiently built from the back. You may then question why he’s been included but it boils down to one word; injuries. Since signing for Liverpool from Brondby in 2006, injuries have restricted Agger to 93 league appearances and, whilst that’s not too bad, it’s not brilliant either. The centre-half position is one where, ideally, constant disruptions are unwelcome. The best sides are usually the ones which have had a settled partnership in the heart of the defence. Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic have been as good a partnership as any in recent years and their settled partnership is one of the key factors behind Manchester United’s success. If we delve a little further back in time it won’t be long before we stumble across Arrigo Sacchi’s incredible AC Milan teams of the 1980s. It should come as no surprise that a significant contributing factor to Milan’s success was their excellent defence. Their remarkable defensive capabilities were demonstrated at their best during the 1987-1988 season where they conceded just 14 goals in the entire campaign.

If Daniel Agger’s injury problems are behind him I sincerely hope he is still a Liverpool player when the transfer window shuts on the 1st of September 2011. However, if a big offer was made for him whilst question marks about his fitness still loomed large, it would be reasonable to strongly consider such a bid and use the funds to sign a centre-half who is capable of featuring on a regular basis.

Luis Suarez

Of course, I’m joking. No need to berate me in the comment section!





Wayne Rooney Versus Manchester City – The Best Goal Ever? Bicycle Kicks That Might Just Change Your Mind

14 02 2011

Wayne Rooney’s goal against Manchester City was fantastic; there’s no denying that. For me (and probably most of you), it is the goal of the season so far and will most likely end up as goal of the season. But best goal of all time? Steady on. It’s not even the best bicycle kick of all time.

Step forward Mauro Bressan and Rivaldo.

First up is Bressan’s outrageous effort for Fiorentina against Barcelona in the Champions League (1999). The audacity to even attempt to score a bicycle kick from twenty-five yards is admirable enough but to actually pull it off is something else. This might just be the best bicycle kick ever scored and it will take something outstanding to beat it.

Rivaldo’s overhead kick was technically outstanding and it was made all the more special as it was scored in the 90th minute to clinch victory for Barcelona over Valencia. This strike also completed Rivaldo’s hat-trick and, most importantly, the winner ensured that Barcelona qualified for the following season’s Champions League. In terms of importance, perhaps Rivaldo’s effort was better than Bressan’s and Rooney’s. I’ll let you decide.

Honourable mention: Trevor Sinclair’s beauty for QPR.

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Goal of the Week – Cheik Tioté vs Arsenal

7 02 2011

Cheik Tioté’s wonder-strike gets the nod from me as goal of the week. In a match widely regarded as the best ever in the Premier League, Tioté’s 87th minute equaliser after being 0-4 down at half-time makes it all the more special.

It’s worth keeping an eye out for Steve Harper joining the Newcastle team celebration. I get the feeling he’s not celebrated many goals before.








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