Friday, 16 August 2013

Premier League Season Preview

Arsenal: Another barren summer, with less reinforcements than many fans would like, and probably not of the quality to kick them back to the big time. Squad has plenty of quality, but not enough steel. Consistency from Wenger will lead to the same trait for the team. That said, if Jack Wilshere can stay fit, there could even be a sniff of success for the Gunners this year. Will be there or there-a-bouts again.

Prediction: 4th

One to watch: Olivier Giroud- The big Frenchman should enjoy a fine season, rich in goals if made the main man of Arsenal's attack.

New blood needed: Steely midfielder with trophy winning experience, balance needed in midfield. (Gustavo, Khedira)

Aston Villa: After narrowly escaping the drop last year, Paul Lambert's young side have stayed together. Most importantly keeping Benteke should ensure goals, while the addition of highly rated Jores Okore could give long suffering Brad Guzan some help at the other end. Last year's tough season will only make this young, talented group stronger.

Prediction: 12th

One to watch: Christian Benteke- The star of this side, should set the premier league alight with his wealth of goalscoring talent.

New blood needed: A real metronomic midfielder to create from the middle or even just tick things over. Bannan had his chance and didn't step up, Delph more of a tough tackler. May well have missed out on Huddlestone. (Faurlin, Barry)

Cardiff City: More famous last season for the changing of club colours than football, the Bluebirds/Red dragons have strengthened in key postions for the upcoming campaign. Arrivals in the form of Medel and Caulker make for a strong spine, but strength in depth will be the issue. Injuries to key players and a busy fixture schedule could derail their season with huge consequences. Cornelius an unknown quantity, but fans will be hoping he can fire them to safety.

Prediction: 19th

One to watch: Steven Caulker- A surprise that Tottenham sold him, but their loss should be Cardiff's gain. A full season in a starting 11 where he will undoubtedly be tested, it gives the young England hopeful a chance to stake a claim for Roy Hodgson's attention.

New blood needed: Premier league experience, a leader to drag them away from the relegation zone using only blood, sweat and tears. (Parker, Hibbert)

Chelsea: The messiah has returned. With the king of Stamford bridge back on his throne, the rest of the Premier League has a right to be worried. Sure to tighten up the defensive issues of last year and with arguably the best attacking midfielders in the league at his disposal, the blues should not find themselves wanting for goals. Probably the most complete team in the league this season.

Prediction: 1st

One to watch: Eden Hazard- showed just how good he is at times last season. Under one of the best coaches on the planet and his own increased experience sure to bring consistency, get ready to be excited and amazed by one of the finest players in the league.

New blood needed: Top quality centre-back. Terry and Ivanovic are ageing, while Cahill isn't convincing at the highest level. (Hummels, Subotic, Bonucci)
Crystal Palace: Undoubtedly to be a fan's favourite by the end of the year. With the ever more endearing Ian Holloway steering the ship, Palace should be guaranteed to play some nice stuff, plus the addition of young Spaniard Jose Campana represents a potentially impressive piece of business for the eagles. Dwight Gayle and Marouane Chamakh may provide less excitement for the fans however and as history sadly tells us- Palace always get relegated.
Out of their depth but won't go down without a fight.

Prediction: 20th

One to watch: Jose Campana- A technically gifted young player in the middle of the park, gives Palace a creative hub which they can work from.

New blood needed: Lots. Premier League experience and quality vital. Old favourites might be able to help (Johnson, Boyce)

Everton: Long term over-achievers, the shoe-string budget should not concern Roberto Martinez, used to fiscal prudence at now relegated Wigan. Seemingly liked for his style over his substance, this could be a season of transition for the toffees, especially if the new boss brings his 3-5-2 into Goodison Park. Imperative that they ward off interest courtesy of their previous boss, as well as bids from Manchester United to prevent loss of key players at any moment. Ending the transfer window with his current squad will be a success. After the FA cup win last season however, anything can happen. Everton fans, give him time, and it could be very rewarding.

Prediction: 8th

One to watch: Kevin Mirallas- Underrated winger who provided plenty of goals and assists last season. Another one of the seemingly endless Belgian talent pool, interesting to see if he'll still be there next year should he kick on this season.

New blood needed: Reliable goalscorer, both Jelavic and Kone tend to blow hot and cold. (Defoe, Jerome)

Fulham: New owners to herald a new era at craven cottage? Not this season. Some shrewd business conducted in Stekelenburg and Boateng, though Fernando Amorebieta's disciplinary record could cost his team if it carries on. Difficult to see where the goals are coming from if Berbatov isn't available, though the mercurial Taraabt could produce some superb performances to lighten up the mediocrity. The trouble is keeping him happy. If Bent arrives, it could be a match made in heaven.

Prediction: 13th

One to watch: Adel Taraabt- fantastic and infuriating in equal measure. One thing is for sure, you won't be bored watching him.

New blood needed: Someone to help out Berbatov and share the load up front. (Defoe, Bent)

Hull City: Steve Bruce's love affair with Premier League management blossoms once again with the return of the Tigers. His top level experience, coupled with that of his squad- evident in the likes of Mcshane, McGregor and Figueroa, may just be enough to keep up a side full of battle. New signing Huddlestone may provide a creative spark if allowed the freedom, but the trouble is who can convert those chances with Danny Graham seemingly uninspiring. Defensive but potentially effective.

Prediction: 18th

One to watch: Huddlestone- if the team play to his strengths then his passing should be a joy to behold this season. Expect 40 yard sprays to Robbie Brady out wide.

New blood needed: Quality in the final third or at least options. Yannick Sagbo will hopefully prove a revelation, as Danny Graham can't be counted on to score all the goals needed to keep them up. (Rodallega, Walters)

Liverpool: For the first time in years, apparently moving forwards. Some great business by Brendan Rogers recently, in not only gaining the likes of Coutinho and highly-rated Aspas, but not being afraid of taking the financial hit to lose Carroll and Downing. Deadwood needed to be shifted and he's done exactly that. Might take flak for making such losses, but a man of principle will regenerate this football club. Expect to see them go from strength to strength under his stewardship. Defence the only worry.

Prediction: 6th

One to watch: Coutinho- Just the kind of attacking midfielder we all love to watch, showed glimpses of real quality last year and an improved team around him, he should flourish further.

New blood needed: Defensive reinforcements, genuine back up to Enrique and someone pacier than Skrtel. (Santon, Shawcross) 
Manchester City: Very fast becoming same old city. If in doubt, throw money at it. This we can see in Negredo, Navas and Fernandinho costing the club an unholy sum of money already this summer. Not that this was money wasted however, with Fernandinho providing a genuinely talented alternative to the ageing Yaya Toure, while Navas offers new man Pellegrini a choice between Milner's work rate, or genuine attacking threat which city lacked from wide at times last year. Negredo should provide Aguero with a suitable forward partner, not shy about scoring himself. Towards the top again with a solid defence this season.

Prediction: 2nd

One to watch: Fernandinho- For around £30 million, City fans will hope he can live up to the hype and his previous displays suggest he should. A direct, forward dribbling central midfielder. A breath of fresh air for the Premier League.

New blood needed: Hard to pick. Quality and depth in all positions, maybe a passing maestro in midfield (De Rossi, Vidal)

Manchester United: Beginning a new era, the fans are skeptical. Despite numerous attempts, Moyes has so far failed to bring in any of his top transfer targets, leaving United with their ever obvious problem in central midfield. With a less than glittering pre-season and the Rooney saga rumbling on, things looked up after the Community Shield win. United fans should feel a whole lot better if this one problem position could be sorted. The key this season is not to expect too much. Even though this side won the league by a considerable distance last year, it would be impossible to not miss Sir Alex Ferguson. With exciting young options emerging out wide, the likes of Lingard may provide fresh blood as opposed to transfers, while Zaha will be hoping for an impressive debut season. Young players need to perform this year. Kagawa, Cleverly and the like may well be given big roles.

Prediction: 3rd

One to watch: Robin Van Persie- Another big season needed from the Dutch Destroyer, as if his goals dry up, Hernandez appears the only go-to-guy at this moment in time.

New blood needed: A midfield creator to take the burden off of Carrick. (Fabregas, Modric, Marchisio)

Newcastle United: A tough time up on Geordie shore at the moment, with a team that have gone from the sublime to the ridiculous in two seasons. Having avoided a perilously close drop last year, it can only be expected that the club will improve, provided transfer speculation over their best players stays away. A side whose spine boasts Krul, Coloccini, Cabaye and Cisse should never be scrapping at the bottom of the league. Still yet to recover from the departure of Demba Ba however, it remains to be seen if Loic Remy will share the burden up front.

Prediction: 11th

One to watch: Moussa Sissoko- Now he's settled in, a central midfielder capable of dictating any game through his quality and physicality. Could be half of an incredible midfield partnership with Cabaye.

New blood needed: No real top class wide men of note besides Ben Arfa. Take advantage of great French scouting network (Payet, Griezmann)

Norwich City: This years surprise package. Some great business in the window has seen Hughton add real quality to his squad which should see them make a push up the league. Van Wolfswinkel and Hooper should add goals while Olsson and Bassong should provide the balance between pace and strength in defence.

Prediction: 9th

One to watch: Van Wolfswinkel- Reaches the Premier League with plenty of goals under his belt for Sporting Lisbon. Expect him to make a name for himself as a reliable goalscorer.

New blood needed: Wide men. Nathan Redmond will hopefully perform straightaway, but other summer signings have added quality where needed. (Mcmanaman)
Southampton: A side that always seem to make value for money signings in recent years, this summer is no different. Quality additions in Victor Wanyama and Dejan Lovren should help drive this side on to a higher finish than last year. Hopefully the much lauded Gaston Ramirez can start producing some more eye-opening performances under Pochettino's eye-pleasing style of play.

Prediction: 10th

One to watch: Gaston Ramirez- With service from Schneiderlin and stability in Wanyama, hopefully he can flourish in a free role behind the striker.

New blood needed: A striker to support Lambert that isn't Rodriguez. Just for variety's sake. (Kane, Crouch, Osvaldo)

Stoke: The team everyone loves to hate. Accused of playing Rugby and route one football, Mark Hughes has a gigantic struggle on his hands to not only improve their fortunes, but change their style of play. Arguably an impossible task in one season, signing both Marc Muniesa from Barcelona and Erik Pieters from PSV may be the right way to go about it. Not to bring in quality ball players in the final third, but to stop the back to front nature of play and pass out from the back. Muniesa is injury prone however, and old habits die hard. Ultimately a season of struggle for the potters.

Prediction: 16th

One to watch: Asmir Begovic- Perhaps unfairly outshone by Simon Mignolet last season, this boy is good. Very good. Unfortunately for Stoke fans, probably destined for bigger and better things.

New blood needed: Back up to N'Zonzi and Adam in central midfield, too many work-hard merchants with little ability. (Collison, Sidwell)

Sunderland: A team all about one man. The boss. Paulo Di Canio has brought in no less than 10 new signings having been vocally unimpressed by the side he inherited towards the back end of last season. While some of these players on their own boast much promise (Giaccherini, Diakite, Altidore), the attempt to create a new team looks akin to 50 shades of QPR. Add to this the human hand grenade that is Di Canio, and Sunderland looks to be a ticking-time bomb this season. The Di Canio experiment could blow up at any moment, most likely when the chips are down.

Prediction: 17th

One to watch: Emmanuel Giaccherini- He brings with him a certain pedigree from Juventus and looked impressive during the Confederations Cup. Should form a interesting three pronged attack with Johnson and Altidore.

New blood needed: Irrelevant. So many players brought in there's no more room. Creative central midfielder would do nicely. Use the Italian connection. (Poli, Marrone)

Swansea City: A good team with a good manager. Easy on the eye, many fans have developed a soft spot for these Welsh Wizards. Wilfried Bony rightly excites supporters off the back of a 30 goal season with Vitesse, while Amat, Canas and Pozuelo add to the Spanish feel of this slick team, ensuring we shall see the same pleasing football, potentially of an even higher quality. Must avoid losing their big players and more importantly, their manager.

Prediction: 7th

One to watch: Michu- After a fantastic debut season, it will be intriguing to see if he can keep it up. The arrival of Bony should allow him to drop into his own 'favoured', position just behind the centre-forward. If this is true, he should have us on the edge of our seats this season.

New blood needed: Hard to say after some great acquisitions. Until the club makes European competition through league standing, it will be hard to attract higher quality in each position for their starting 11.

Tottenham Hotspur: Is there to be a power shift in North London? After being closer than ever, yet managing to miss out again last year, Spurs are bolstering their ranks for yet another assault on the top four. Paulinho, Soldado and Capoue all seem quality additions, but it seems only a mental block stopped spurs last year and with nothing changing in defence, the worry is that it will be the same again. With Walker being better going forward than he is defensively and Spurs' ever malignant left back problem still unsolved, the White Hart Lane faithful can only hope that Danny Rose is ready. Can only realistically expect to get into the promised land of Champions League football if Bale stays.

Prediction: 5th

One to watch: Roberto Soldado- At his age should be in his prime and with his price tag should be getting goals. Certainly has the pedigree with his previous figures and Real Madrid experience, another Spaniard who could Shine in the Premier League.

New blood needed: Recognised left-back. Assou-Ekotto inconsistent and Rose fairly raw. (Coentrao, Baines)

West Bromwich Albion: Last season's over-achievers, the Baggies have been given a huge opportunity to build upon a successful season. Their behaviour in the transfer market suggests different however, with the acquisitions of Anelka (Who should guarantee a decent goal return) and Lugano seeming to offer a quick fix of experience, as opposed to promising players who could begin to build something special at the Hawthorns. Overall too cautious to kick on, and an attempt to stand still will result in regression.

Prediction: 14th

One to watch: Matej Vydra- The Watford loanee finally has a chance to test himself against the best, and he'll be hoping to show why he scored so many last season.

New blood needed: Some genuine pace at the back. Lugano might be a big name, but doesn't solve the problem, could have missed out on Caulker. Re-signing Gera & Popov shows little ambition too. (Tomkins, De Laet, Ayala)

West Ham: Gone are the exciting teams from the Boleyn Ground, now is the age of Allardyce. While effective, a dull combination of knock downs and crosses will provide success for the Hammers, as Carroll provides the focal point for Downing to aim for and Nolan to work off. Some good players among the gloom in Diame, Tomkins and Reid. Will stay up by virtue of a decent defence, but when plan A doesn't work, they'll be found wanting.

Prediction: 15th

One to watch: Jack Collison- A talented player blighted by injuries, still young enough to make a big impact. If he can stay fit, watch performances improve and interest in him increase.

New blood needed: Pacey forward to offer something different to Carroll. (Zapata, Rodallega)

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Transfer Sagas: Luis Suarez

Adapted from

Should I stay or should I go? Not a question a certain Mr. Suarez is any longer asking himself following this morning's revelations that he is now apparently desperate to leave Liverpool Football Club.

Throwing one of the summer's longest running and controversial moves into yet more turmoil, this threatens to sour relations not only between the player and his club, but also between two of the Premier League's biggest clubs, with Brendan Rogers accusing Arsenal of showing a lack of class in their pusuit. So should poor little Luis be freed from the tyranny of Anfield, or should Suarez sober up and realise which side his bread is in fact buttered?
Lets look at the man. Why should he stay? Backed due to his ability and importance to the club, through proven racism allegations and inexplicably biting Ivanovic just months later, Luis Suarez owes Liverpool Football Club a lot. Here are two offences for which any normal employee could easily be sacked and depending on the severity even imprisoned. As it is, his manger(s), team-mates and fans alike have rallied round him and offered their support to an easily dislikeable character. As a man, he arguably owes more to his club than any player previous. Cantona's infamous kung-fu kick at Selhurst park draws obvious comparisons, though one wonders if Luis would have been hung out to dry but for his importance to the club last season. It took Ajax less than two months to rid themselves of a problem after his previous attempts at cannibalism.

Yet none of this appears to matter to Suarez himself. A man with a seemingly warped sense of morality, feels now that he has been lied to and that his ambitions cannot be fulfilled at a club where he, arguably the best player, has been suspended for lengthy spells. Having in the eyes of many, done very little to deserve a shot at the big time, the player is now calling to be allowed to leave for Champions League football, though will seemingly not put in an official transfer request in order to receive a so-called 'loyalty' bonus. The only sticking point are claims made by the player that he has been promised that he may leave, having turned down a 'big', club last summer, in a failed attempt to help the Merseysiders into the Champions League. It seems odd that Liverpool would cut such a deal, other than in an easily deniable verbal sense, rather than as he claims:
"Last year I had the opportunity to move to a big European Club and I stayed on the understanding that, if we failed to qualify for the Champions League the following season, I'd be allowed to go... They gave me their word a year ago and now I want them to honour that. And it is not just something verbal with the coach but something that is written in the contract."

If this is indeed the case however, Liverpool may find themselves without a legal leg to stand on. Claiming that he and his representatives would happily take their case to the Premier League if the move continues to be blocked, it seems Luis may get his wish, selfish as it appears to be.

It is baffling then, that this is just another part of football today. He is not the only want-a-way player in the world, or even the Premier League, but to see the gulf in attitude even between players at the same club- for example Gerrard turning down a move to treble winning Bayern Munich to stay at the club he loves, compared with Suarez jumping ship at the first opportunity- is truly staggering. But this is modern football. It's not just 22 men chasing a ball any more. Its a 24 hour a day, 7 day a week, 365 day of the year soap opera. And we love it.

Monday, 5 August 2013

Transfer Titbits: My Take On This Window's Rumours In No More Than 100 Words
Bale: Being touted for a truly ridiculous price. To turn down £85 million is beyond arrogant. For a player who scored roughly half the goals Ronaldo did when he moved for £80 million, Daniel Levy should have bitten Florentino Perez’ hand off. Seems as though his heart is in a move to Madrid and his sale would be more than sufficient to pay for Tottenham’s squad reinvestment. Keeping him at Spurs just makes everyone involved unhappy. Should test himself on a bigger stage and see if he really is as good as his fans make out.

Likelihood of Move: 6/10                                                       

Will start the season at: Real Madrid
Suarez: Potentially a sideways move come the end of the season. Club don’t want to sell, Wenger won’t buy for a ridiculous price. Not a typical Arsenal signing (poor attitude) which makes it seem even more unlikely. If he turns his back on a club which supported him through being clearly guilty of using racist language (rightly or wrongly) he has no idea how good he really has things at Liverpool. Real Madrid a far more realistic and attractive move, given the sale of Higuain. That however is probably dependent on the capture of Gareth Bale.

Likelihood of move: 4/10                                                              

Will start the season at: Liverpool
Rooney: Wanting to leave the Theatre of Dreams for the second time. United far too shrewd to sell domestically unless an unbelievable price is offered. Chelsea’s pursuit makes for an exciting chat around the water cooler on Monday, but realistically not going to happen. Would only be sold abroad and those with enough financial clout can buy better players anyway.  Would be better off settling down and working hard to regain and win trophies for his club, if you can’t find the challenge you want at Manchester United, you’re very unlikely to find it anywhere in the world of football.

Likelihood of move: 1/10                                                       

Will start the season at: Manchester United
Fabregas: Heart torn between trying to make it at his boyhood club the second time round and taking a fantastic opportunity to be playing regular top level football again. At a crossroads in his career, hang on one maybe two years and Xavi will retire, giving him the first team role he craves. Leave now and become the lynchpin of one of Europe’s biggest forces at Old Trafford. Loyalties to Arsenal should nip this one in the bud however, making the move seem more unlikely the longer it drags out. Unlikely to betray his past and himself.

Likelihood of move: 3/10                                                              

Will start the season at: Barcelona
Remy: Makes sense for him and the club. Redknapp says he doesn’t want players whose heart’s aren’t in it. Loan deal possible with the club expected to return to the Premier League, with surely no shortage of takers for a striker who, at times, impressed last season and showed genuine goal-scoring ability with some sensational finishes. Arsenal, Tottenham and Newcastle all linked at various times throughout the window, but with acquisitions of Sanogo and Soldado, the latter seems the obvious option to add to the ever-swelling French contingent at St. James’ Park.

Likelihood of move: 9/10                                                              

Will start the season at: Newcastle
Defoe: Genuinely surprised to see his name thrown in the transfer mixer this summer. A reliable 10-15 a season premier league goal-scorer, surely the perfect back up/partner to marquee signing Soldado at Spurs. To hear of interest then from Aston Villa when they already have the impressive Benteke, promising Weimann and Agbonlahor to play with, seems misplaced. Also desperately needed at White Hart Lane to deal with the inevitable decline in form of Adebayor now he has nothing to prove having earned a permanent contract. AVB surely too clever to let 
him go on the cheap, or at all.

Likelihood of move: 2/10                                                            

Will start the season at: Tottenham Hotspur
Bent: Not my favourite player, but one that somehow scores goals. Whenever he plays he seems to get a chance here or there and his record in the Premier League can’t be argued with. Frozen out at Villa due to a youthful revolution under Paul Lambert, will prove no doubt an astute signing for a bottom half of the table team. Palace, Fulham and Newcastle all linked, if the price is right could be at Palace, Newcastle seem to favour other targets, but Fulham could create an interesting partnership teamed with the mercurial Berbatov.

Likelihood of move: 8/10                                                              

Will start the season at: Fulham
Eriksen: Yet another promising youngster from Ajax’s famed youth academy. Apparently clever having turned down advances from big clubs before, will realise the competition with Coutinho at Anfield could be fierce and therefore less than ideal for his own development. Man Utd appear to be entering the fray having missed out on other targets, but interest there still only at a very early stage. Depends if the wealth and glory of the Premier League turns his young head.

Likelihood of move: 4/10                                                              

Will start the season at: Ajax
Fellaini: Probably hoping his old manager Moyes will take him to Old Trafford following an impressive showing last season. Not what Utd fans are crying out for, but at least a decent signing in midfield which could appease the fans until next summer. Arsenal also reportedly interested and arguably an ideal signing for Arsene Wenger’s side, stocked with creativity and quality, but missing a bit of bite and nastiness, at times needed in the world’s most physical league. With a reported £25 million price tag, Mr. Wenger could do a lot worse. Moyes’ signing of last resort.

Likelihood of move: 5/10                                                              

Will start the season at: Everton 
Modric: Logically a good move for Man Utd.  Fits the bill as the creative midfielder the fans are desperate for and not getting playing time at Real Madrid. Seems the type who could be tempted by a lucrative offer, but may also try and stake a claim where he is, given the age of Alonso and uncertain future of Sami Khedira. The arrival of Illaramendi for a huge fee suggests otherwise, perhaps making him the English Champions’ most viable and sensible target. Could be put off by being a 2nd choice target, though may be sold to fund Bale.

Likelihood of move: 5/10                                                              

Will start the season at: Real Madrid
Heitinga: Rumoured to be keen on a move away from Goodison Park,  the Dutch defender will not have been pleased by the signing of Antolin Alcaraz. A solid defender who does his job and doesn’t make headlines, could be the ideal candidate to inject some much needed pace in to the backline of West Brom, who will want to build on last season’s progress, while holding concern over the age of McCauley, Olsson and new signing Lugano. Given his wish to play and Everton’s worldwide links, would not be a surprise to see him alongside Yobo in the Turkish league with Fenerbahce or Galatasaray.

Likelihood of move: 7/10                                                              

Will start the season at: Not Everton
Ince: Having turned down an £8 million move to Premier League newcomers Cardiff, one suspects his dad and now manager has told him to hang on for a big offer. Whether it will come before the season starts or not is the big question. With old club Liverpool allegedly regretting the decision to sell him, Stewart Downing’s non-productive days at Anfield could be numbered before the season starts. Likely to be bought in the January window after more impressive showings in the championship.

Likelihood of move: 8/10                                                              

Will start the season at: Blackpool

Chamakh: Rumoured to be close to joining Crystal Palace. Arsenal fans will be dancing in the streets the second it becomes confirmed.

Likelihood of move: 10/10                                                       
Will start the season at: Crystal Palace
Honda: Consistently impressive in international tournaments, its a surprise no-one in Europe has made a significant bid to sign him before. With his contract soon to expire at CSKA Moscow, both Benfica and AC Milan are interested. Word on the wire says he fancies the latter, and a move to the San Siro could be good for both. Shirt sales for cash strapped Milan and big club experience for Keisuke. AC to make it official on a Bosman transfer in January.

Likelihood of move: 8/10                                                             

Will start the season at: CSKA Moscow
Agger: With Barcelona reportedly on the look out for a new centre-half this season, and with interest in both Thiago Silva and David Luiz already rebuffed, the Dane's name is the next to be thrown into the Catalan's hat. Whilst dependable, perhaps not quite of the quality the Blaugrana usually recruit, so promoting the likes of Marc Bartra could be more fruitful. That said, hard to see him turning down a move if the bid came in.

Likelihood of move: 5/10

Will start the season at: Liverpool

The Missing Piece: Juventus Say Arrivederci To Austere Strikers
What are they putting in the water in Turin? It seems that the old lady grows more fearsome with age, her resolution strengthening, while her cutting edge becomes ever sharper. In a trend seemingly sweeping the top of Serie A, Juventus have added to their forward line with likely devastating effect. Following the transfer of Mario Balotelli to A.C Milan and Gonzalo Higuain to Napoli, Juventus have made two marquee signings up front in Fernando Llorente and Carlos Tevez.

After the return of Antonio Conte, having served a one year ban for his part in the Serie A match fixing scandal, Juventus by no means had an unsuccessful season in 2012-13. Winners of the top Italian Division, having led the league since the 2nd round of fixtures, Juventus stormed to the title with an incredible record. They conceded just 24 goals and maintained an unbelievable 19 clean sheets. An astonishing achievement over the course of 38 games, especially when you consider that their nearest rivals Napoli conceded 36 goals over the league season.

While this is fantastic for the fans of the Bianconeri, it is easy for those in the stands to become restless if they perceive a lack of progress. Surely this is why the manager has seen fit to bolster his attacking ranks. Perhaps this is also in the pursuit of improved performance on the European stage. It tells a story that Juventus' top scorer last season was Arturo Vidal (15), who certainly is a top notch midfielder, but the lack of an out and out goalscorer clearly contributed to their failure to move beyond the quarter finals of last season's champions league.
Topping a tough group including Shakhtar Donetsk and Chelsea by 2 points, Juventus outscored neither, before meeting Celtic in the first knockout round, who were comfortably beaten 5-0 on aggregate. Next, coming up against eventual winners Bayern Munich in the Quarter-finals, a lack of threat was exposed as they lost 2-0 both home and away, sliding to a 4-0 loss on aggregate. Faced with a defensive unit as good as their own, Juventus found their shortcomings unassailable. Consequently, one of the most promising young managers in world football, at just 44 years of age, Antonio Conte has sought to rectify this.

Firstly, the nature of the business conducted must be scrutinized. In bringing in two top class centre forwards, Juventus have parted with the total sum of 10 million Euros. Signing unsettled Llorente on a free transfer from Athletic Bilbao (118 goals in 333 appearances) could yet prove to be a masterstroke, while the acquisition of the volatile Carlos Tevez (73 goals in 138 games for Manchester City) for such a small fee in footballing terms, should guarantee goals in a competition which cannot boast the quality of the Premier League, in terms of team-for-team competitiveness. It could even be said that they could strike up quite a partnership given their relative attributes. Llorente is big, strong, an aerial threat and a fantastic forward to play off of, while Tevez will provide undiminishing work-rate, tenacity and pure quality in terms of finishing. Coupled with the pacey, skilful threat of Giovinco and creativity of Vucinic, Italy's most successful team promise to be a real force, not only in Serie A, but also in the Champions League this season. The only potential fly in the ointment, could be the unprofessional attitude shown by both strikers when not playing regularly (Tevez's Jaunt to Argentina, and Llorente's time spent on the bench due to disagreements with previous manager Marco Bielsa) though this should not be an issue at their new club, where both would be first-choice forwards.
This does not bode well however for the likes of Quagliarella and Matri who will be expected to be shown the door at Juventus Stadium. With Norwich already rumoured to be interested in the former, and Emannuel Giaccherini having been sold to Sunderland, this could potentially hint at more of a wide role for Giovinco should Llorente be used on his own upfront, in combination with a fearsome midfield three of Pirlo, Marchisio and Vidal, not to gloss over the huge emerging talents of Pogba and Marrone. This proves the shrewd nature of the club's transfer maneuverings, as not only have they brought in quality, having purchased promising defender Angelo Ogbonna to add to a squad rich with strength-in-depth, but also in a way which gives the team a plan B which will be just as strong as whatever strategy they choose to start with.

4-4-2 or 4-3-3, Conte's team seem to be versatile enough to cope with most opposition. Boasting one of Europe's best defensive units, arguably one of the best midfield packages (apart from maybe recognized wingers, as Giovinco and Vucinic would likely be used- it would be no surprise to see an ageing Simone Pepe shipped out), and now a potentially lethal strike-force, it is hard to see how anyone can topple this team from the top of Serie A, or fail to reach at least the semi-finals of the Champions League.

Friday, 2 August 2013

'Not One Of The Bottle', One For The Cups


Jose Mourinho. The name incites fear and admiration in equal measure. Now he's back at the helm of his favourite club is there anyone who can stop him?

Chelsea have hardly had a lean spell since Mourinho, with trophies acquired under Ancelotti, Di Matteo, and Benitez, but only once since 'the translator', left the club in acrimonious circumstances, have they lifted the holy grail that is The Premier League trophy. This is not solely down to the manager as many fans would like to believe, but more the playing staff which are so important and particularly where they play.

The major change in Chelsea's style since Mourinho left is the use of out-and-out wingers. When Mourinho won the league in 2006, he had a flying winger in the form of Arjen Robben, consistently chipping in with goals and assists, while an in form Joe Cole provided defender-shredding dribbling on the other flank.

Since the departure of 'the special one', this has changed. Although wide men have remained at the club, their usage, and right to be defined as out and out wingers is subject to debate. After Mourinho went, Arjen Robben left for Real Madrid, taking a huge attacking presence out of the line up. Joe Cole hit a succession of injuries and poor form before being sold to Liverpool. Meanwhile the like of Sturridge, Kalou and Anelka were forced to fulfil wide positions, when each and everyone of them defines themselves as a central striker. Each of them has now moved on to pastures new.

The revival is well under way however. With the additions of Oscar and Eden Hazard, Chelsea once again have the threat from wide that they once did. Andre Schurrle and Victor Moses will likely play back up to these two, but still possess the ability required to terrorize Premier League defenders. In a team which will afford them the creativity and freedom they crave by being so defensively sound (As Mourinho will undoubtedly make them) you can guarantee Chelsea will be right up there for the league next season.

Whilst their formation of dominating the central midfield has made them hard to beat, it has clearly suited them more to cup than league football. In a do-or die game, they have only had to score one goal to go through, as was evident in their 2-0 victory over Barcelona at the Nou Camp in their Champions League winning season (Torres' goal was merely an icing on the cake). This was because their solidity in the centre of the pitch made it hard for teams to play their way through and score. Indeed this is how they kept themselves in touch during the epic champions league final in Munich. What is needed in the Premier League however is goal threat. Many teams would turn up to Stamford Bridge hoping for a draw, so when Chelsea march out with no real width, they cannot work the ball around the tightly disciplined opposition and stretch them enough and create chances to win the game, resulting in dropped points. This adds up over a league season and explains their inability to win the league, whereas teams will become more open in cup games which are win or bust, enabling Chelsea to score counter attack goals, or simply exploit gaps that might not appear in a league game.

It is width then that will return Mourinho to God like status. And he seems to be taking the helm at the perfect time, when the club's fantastic new wingers have bedded in for a season, while he can add his own men too. With his ability to tighten up the blues' defence, Chelsea may well have the Premier League trophy in their hands again in May 2014.

League Champions
F.A Cup Winners
League Cup Winners

No Major Trophies
League Champions?

Reaching the next level: an example of how to progress through transfers

Around European football these days we seem to find ourselves looking at a plenty of 'fallen giants' such as Villarreal, Werder Bremen and S.S Lazio. Having won Serie A in 2000 under the stewardship of Sven-Goran Eriksson, Lazio seemed to be destined for a bright future boasting players such as Pavel Nedved, Dejan Stankovic and Diego Simeone to name a few. Since then the Biancocelesti have been on a downward slide, much of that owing to financial trouble, but their large stadium and incredible fanbase have seen them maintain their status in Serie A. Over the past 3 years, Lazio have proved themselves to be a solid Europa league team, whilst the league itself has been subject to turmoil and the two scommesopoli and calciopoli match fixing scandals. This summer however, seems to show that this side now has the prowess to return to the top table of European football and make the jump into the champions league.

For years, under previous boss Eduardo Reja, Lazio did well but seemingly not quite well enough to just make that jump to join Europe's elite. When the squad is observed it is fairly clear to see why. Whilst the squad does have the likes of Brazilian international Hernanes, German legend Miroslav Klose and the up and coming Stefan Radu, the club is also full of players incapable of playing consistently at the highest level. Nowhere is this more prevalent than the club's recent transfer policy, or at least until this year. Signing players with promise that haven't developed or just 6/10 players that put in a good performance each week but never anything outstanding. Chief names among these would include Abdoulaye Konko and Ederson from last summer who have not really impressed during their time at the club.

This transfer window this year appeared to be following historical fashion with the acquisition of little known Bryan Perea upfront and the seemingly inexplicable sale of towering centre-half Modibo Diakite to Paulo Di Canio's Sunderland. Added to this, previously prolific striker Mauro Zarate was also sold due to a disagreement with the board. However the tide now appears to have turned, with the board backing new boss Vladimir Petkovic in the transfer market. The club have made 3 notable signings this summer, which could help catapult such a huge club back to the big time.

Firstly, the club have signed Lucas Biglia from RSC Anderlecht. The Argentine adds to the large South American contingent already at the club and should provide an assured, classy playmaker to the central midfield, allowing Hernanes to push a little further up the pitch, enabling him to showcase his flair and finishing talents. It can't be forgotten that this player was strongly linked with Arsenal in the past and so the eagles will be hoping they've captured a real gem of a player.

Joining him at Stadio Olimpico this summer, is his Argentine compatriot Diego Novaretti. A rumored target for Roberto Mancini in his final days at Manchester City, the 28 year old promises to bring steel and a never-say-die attitude to Petkovic's set up. The worry for fans however, may be that coming on a free transfer from Mexican sign Toluca, Novaretti will not be able to handle the step up to the European big leagues, although they can find solace in the examples of Javier Hernandez and Andres Guardardo.

The last major signing though, is somewhat of a wildcard. Young Brazilian attacking midfielder Felipe Anderson, has finally joined Lazio after a long transfer saga. He promises much with an eye for a killer ball and direct dribbling skills, though perhaps he needs more time to bed in, being half way across the world at the age of 20. Either way, for just shy of £8 million, Lazio will hope this investment in the future can start paying dividends as soon as possible.

It seems then with these additions that S.S Lazio will attempt to get back to where they feel they should be. The factor that could derail all of this, is that club captain Stefano Mauri's six month ban on match fixing charges, confirmed today, could overshadow the club's season. Using their unorthodox but effective formation, they should be able to displace some of Serie A's traditional giants or at least keep pace with the rising powers of Napoli and bitter rivals Roma.

Canny Canaries- This Year's Premier League Surprise Package

As the season looms large over us, we all expect the usual suspects to be heading the table. Whilst it promises to be one of the most exciting campaigns for years, with managerial changes at the league's top 3 teams, one slipping under the radar appear to be Norwich City. Overshadowed by drama at the top, competition for the Europa league should this year be incredibly fierce, with the likes of Liverpool, Everton and Tottenham all strengthening, meanwhile Chris Hughton's business in the transfer window threatens to upset the status quo of England's Top Division.

Where better to start than last season's team. Finishing in 11th place, just 5 points behind last year's surprise package in West Bromwich Albion and only 2 behind fan's favorites Swansea, Norwich seemed to quietly slide into a solid finish above far traditionally 'bigger' clubs such as Newcastle. With good performances all season from the likes of Russell Martin, Jonny Howson and Robert Snodgrass, all chipping in with consistent goals and assists, Norwich could well lay claim to having some of the Premier League's most underrated players. Sebastian Bassong in fact picked up the fan's player of the year award, showing that they have a solid base to build from alongside England hopeful John Ruddy in the net.

Additions therefore have been mostly of an attacking and therefore exciting nature. Even at the back, the signing of Martin Olsson from Blackburn shows intent to go forward next year. An attacking, thoroughly modern fullback, he has been linked with bigger sides in the past, before Blackburn's relegation to the Championship. Not only will this provide the team with an extra attacking threat from wide, but a reliable defensive player, able to cope with the pace of many of the PL's devastating wingers.

Moving forwards, we see the addition of both Leroy Fer in central midfield and hot prospect Nathan Redmond on the wing. Fer will undoubtedly add steel to the yellow's midfield at a colossal 6ft 2, but with a record of 14 goals and 12 assists last season, could create a formidable partnership with the ever improving Johnny Howson in the middle of the park. Fer was also denied a move to higher rated Everton in January due to a failed medical. This should not make people doubt him however, as anyone can realize Stoke's mistake in denying Demba Ba a move due to a dodgy knee. Redmond meanwhile will provide pace and a direct approach, contrasting nicely with the ball playing ability of the canaries' central midfield as he seeks to prove himself one of England's hottest prospects.

Now we move on to the reason all these players have been signed. Goals win games. In order to score goals, you not only need the service which the new boys at Carrow Road are desperate to provide, but you need the strikers calm enough to put away the chances when they matter. It is here where Hughton has pulled off arguably the biggest coup of this transfer window. In signing Ricky Van Wolfswinkel for a speculated £8.5 million fee from Sporting Lisbon, Norwich have a forward who has scored 20 goals last season and 25 the year before. Some of the bigger teams in Europe have missed out hugely on a player boasting stats like these, for what has now become a fairly low fee. Its worth noting that Gonzalo Higuain moved to Napoli for a reported £34.5 million having scored 19 goals last season and 26 the year before that (cumulatively the same amount as Ricky, though admittedly in a higher standard of league). The fact remains then, that Van Wolfswinkel shows huge potential, not least in the way he is breaking onto the Netherlands international scene, having been awarded 2 full caps after representing his country at youth level.

Nor does it stop there. Alongside this new Dutch destroyer, chairman Alan Bowkett has sanctioned the purchase of Gary Hooper from Celtic. A long time transfer target for not only the club- but also numerous clubs up and down the premier league, including the now relegated and fabulously wealthy QPR- Hooper scored a fantastic 31 goals in 51 appearances for Celtic last season. Similarly to their other new striking addition, you might quibble about the standard of league, but by again signing a striker apparently in top form, Norwich are giving themselves a fantastic chance of progressing into the PL's top 10 at least.

Putting all of this together then, Chris Hughton's Norwich are going through a seismic change for the better. The selling of Grant Holt, not to take away from the fantastic service he gave to the club, signifies a change in style for the canaries and a move towards a more pleasing style of play. Under a manager who seems to have proven himself astute in the transfer window and more than capable in this league (when unfairly sacked while doing a great job at Newcastle in 2010) fans of Norwich City FC can look forward to a thoroughly entertaining and ultimately successful season.