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Radamel Falcao is the Man to Make Manchester United Great Again

Undoubtedly one of the most surprising deals of the summer transfer window was the last-minute arrival of Radamel Falcao to Manchester United on a season-long loan.

In an era where rumours are rife and “contacts” announce moves in lightning-quick fashion, the Colombian’s transfer to Old Trafford caught many by surprise. What he will do without question, however, is bring the firepower required to take Louis Van Gaal’s side back to the right position in the Premier League table.

'Falcao provides a welcome attacking selection headache for van Gaal'

‘Falcao provides a welcome attacking selection headache for van Gaal’

Sure, talk has been dominated by who United should have bought – perhaps a new central defender should have been the first item on Van Gaal’s shopping list? Yet even though Falcao’s move brings about further selection headaches – not to mention more formation worries – for the United boss, they are welcome ones.

Falcao is a world-class striker and is capable of that individual genius to win his side the game. His goalscoring record speaks volumes of his ability; no one need doubt him in front of goal.

For Atletico Madrid and Monaco, the 28-year-old striker scored 64 goals in 90 games, and with Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie lining up alongside him – or behind him, depending on what Van Gaal sees as his best option – the Red Devils’ attack seems more lethal than ever before.

Combine that with fellow new signing Angel Di Maria’s incredible assist record, and you would expect this United side not to be short on goals during this campaign.

'The man to feed Falcao'

‘The man to feed Falcao’

The discussion surrounding the frailty of United’s defensive line is something that obviously cannot be overlooked, but with Luke Shaw and Rafael Da Silva returning to fitness, and Marcos Rojo finally getting his work permit, Van Gaal’s options are slowly returning. Youngster Tyler Blackett has impressed so far and will only go from strength to strength as he retains first-team football.

It is at the other end where United can redeem themselves, and one would expect them to have a few high-scoring games – perhaps a 5-3 or a 4-4 here or there – while they try to correct the imbalance in the squad. However, with in excess of £200 million worth of attacking value, and ex-Madrid man Di Maria ready to use his incredible vision and poise to find them, the Red Devils can score their way out of trouble.

Expect to see Van Gaal continue to tinker with his formation as he works to explore the best options for his side, and the best position for each of his stars. This could see Rooney shifted back into a midfield role, ready to shift the ball out wide with a killer pass.

In front, Falcao and Van Persie will provide the goals. Incredibly, we could see the likes of January signing Juan Mata and young Adnan Januzaj dropped to the bench to accommodate Van Gaal’s best XI.

It would have seemed unspeakable to suggest that ex-Chelsea star Mata would find himself benched in a squad that has looked bereft of ideas and creativity, but that now seems likely to be the case.

It tells us one thing, however, and that is that Van Gaal clearly has options and depth to turn a broken United side into a formidable machine once again. The Dutchman has spoken this week about the board shooting for a top-three finish, and with Falcao leading the line and a new era on the horizon, who would bet against it?

Written by: Ben Johnson – Drifted Offside

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Be Careful What You Wish for, Newcastle United fans!

Something quite spectacular happened on Monday night. Supporters of Hull City finally displayed an allegiance toward their owner, Assem Allam.

Quite how they chose to demonstrate it (jeering their fellow followers) may seem odd, but the sentiment is very clear: Given a choice of continuing their upward trajectory under the Egyptian-born businessman, or preventing a change in name, there is now a growing number appreciating the benefits of the former.

'Hull fans are realising life with Allam would be easier than life without'

‘Hull fans are realising life with Allam would be easier than life without’

On Saturday afternoon there was jeering of a much more venomous nature at St. Mary’s Stadium. The banners unfurled by the travelling support are fast becoming a permanent fixture on the terraces at Newcastle United games. The four-year reign of Alan Pardew has become intolerable to a growing majority, who would also like Mike Ashley to vacate the North East too.

In February this year I wrote an impassioned article about Newcastle United’s captain, Fabricio Coloccini. When he left the turf on New Years Day with the scores level in the 65th minute against West Bromwich Albion, Newcastle United were just four points adrift of the top four.

Over the course of his eight-game absence the gap had extended to sixteen points. Yohan Cabaye is the favoured explanation, but it was the defensive discipline the 38-time capped Argentine provided that had a greater impact, I would argue.

By the time of their 3-0 humiliation at home to Everton in late March, the season had all but concluded as far as their European aspirations were concerned.

The sense of a hangover for Alan Pardew did not seem obvious until last weekend, but an incredible eight minutes of stoppage time in their previous fixture has had a profound effect upon everyone on Tyneside.

Four points from three games would have catapulted the club above Manchester United and Liverpool; instead they languished in fifteenth place with the local paper conducting opinion polls, and speculation mounting on the commitment of their majority shareholder.

'Desperate times call for desperate measures'

‘Desperate times call for desperate measures’

Having written so affectionately about Coloccini, you can imagine my disdain on witnessing Southampton’s goals on Saturday – the arms aloft praying for an offside call when the second was swept home cried of abandonment.

The defence had been pressed to the point of concession after just nineteen minutes. However, the melee that has absorbed the club over the course of the international break has created a convenient excuse for the players, as suggested by Gary Neville on Monday night.

Having played the role of centre-back (not to a distinguishable level I hasten to add) I could relate whole-heartedly to the way Mike Williamson reacted for the third goal. Initially he inexplicably shaped his body away from the ball toward Jack Cork, before realising his error and switching back, favouring his back to the midfield runner.

As soon as the ball was released he compounded his error by stuttering, followed by a pause in which his sheer desperation was all too obviously displayed as he prayed for Tim Krul – rushing from his line – to pounce on the through ball.

His actions were wholly indicative of a player whose only wish at that moment was to be in the sanctuary of the team bus, heading north on the M3.

By my interpretation, the defensive showing from Newcastle United was not one of not caring for the fortunes of the club, it was players succumbing to the pressures of the environment that has been created for them.

And like it or not, the people responsible for creating the negativity and evident sense of self-torture are the fans.

Alan Pardew may be protected by his impressive eight-year contract signed in September 2012. Or it could be his tolerance of having transfer signings allegedly forced upon him. Whatever it is, he isn’t in a position of strength quite like Jose Riga at Blackpool.

Their chairman, Karl Oyston, has decided in the past two weeks to inform BBC Radio that his manager travelled to Belgium without permission (and in spite of committing to spend a week on the training ground working on defence) and then chose to approach Burton Albion for their manager having not dismissed his current incumbent.

Any potential sacking will now be followed by an inevitable, considerably costly, constructive dismissal claim.

I sympathise with supporters of Newcastle to an extent, and I appreciate that they have lost complete faith, but as in any relationship, they have an opportunity to rebuild that faith for the sake of the club they love.

Blackpool, meanwhile, are beyond the point of counselling. They have an owner whose strategy to recruit players as late as possible supposedly makes perfect business sense, despite having no merits at all in a footballing context. Mike Ashley may have his quirks, like banning every media outlet he possibly can, but he will never lead his club to ruin.

I look at the example of Tottenham Hotspur and I strongly believe I would prefer it the Newcastle United way. Harry Redknapp achieved fourth place in 2011-12, but was out of a job just four weeks later thanks to a combination of Didier Drogba and Roberto Di Matteo.

Andre Villas-Boas led the club to an unprecedented 72 points the following season, but lasted just four months of the 2013-14 campaign. Through the revolving door has now come Mauricio Pochettino, who has offloaded one suspect captain in Michael Dawson, only to pass the honour to another, Younes Kaboul.

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The notion of “the grass is not always greener” has not escaped some Hull City fans, who are warming to the idea of becoming Hull Tigers. I just wonder if Newcastle United fans could contemplate the potentially negative consequences of upsetting the Ashley-Pardew duopoly.

Do they realistically think either David Moyes or Tony Pulis would be tempted – or even Steve Bruce in fact?

Inevitably the time will come, but I sure will miss Alan Pardew throwing himself into the crowd after a late winner against Fulham; standing toe-to-toe sharing frank exchanges with Manuel Pellegrini; and the memorable occasion when he advised Yohan Cabaye on where to place his free-kick mid-match.

If you’re going to leave the Premier League, Alan, do it with a proper headbutt this time will you, please?

Written by: Steve Clift – Football Judger

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3 In-Form Premier League Stars Who Deserve a Shot in Roy Hodgson’s England Setup

In light of retirements from Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and John Terry in quick succession, the England squad has taken on a rather dynamic new look. At a time when Fabian Delph’s inclusion in the last squad surprised many (although it seems long overdue), it could be the time for other players at the smaller clubs to get an opportunity.

Ryan Shawcross, Stoke City

With English centre-backs seemingly at the weakest point that I can remember, Shawcross may count himself unlucky to not have built on his single cap in the humiliating defeat to Sweden in 2012.

The 26 year-old’s record as leader of the Stoke City defence has even brought on brief links to a move to Manchester United or Arsenal in the last couple of transfer windows. Shawcross’ consistency in availability is reflected in his record of featuring in at least 36 Premier League games for each of the last four seasons, and he’s become an integral part of Stoke’s formidable home record.

''Traditional English Centre Half?'

”Traditional English Centre Half?’

Questions over whether Shawcross could deal with top-level forwards at international level are perhaps fair, but Potters fans would point you toward a record of just three goals conceded in the last three home victories against Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United.

Last season’s average of 4.8 aerial duels won per game put Shawcross as one of the most dominant players in the air, ahead of both Gary Cahill and Phil Jagielka. At 26, time is on his side and how Chris Smalling or Phil Jones continue to retain a place ahead of the Stoke captain is understandably seen as a tad unfair by some.

Tom Huddlestone, Hull City

After the last international break, England’s diamond midfield seemed most lacking in a defensive midfield player. Huddlestone would be perfect for the role, but since his Three Lions debut in 2009, he’s failed to garner more than four caps for his country.

As a deep-lying playmaker, Huddlestone can seem to struggle for mobility in some higher-tempo Premier League fixtures, but the base of the diamond at international level may allow for his slightly sluggish game. At 27 years of age he’s arguably a better (and more long-term) fit than the rivals for this position, notably Gareth Barry and Michael Carrick.

'Perfect deep lying midfielder for England?'

‘Perfect deep lying midfielder for England?’

The role of the deepest midfield player is usually one that enjoys a far later peak in a career, and Huddlestone is unlikely to find his best years until beyond the age of 30, having only just found regular playing time at Hull City.

He played the fourth-most long balls per game last season, perfectly reflecting his ability to switch and control play from deep positions. This searching long pass could be missed in the absence of Gerrard and Lampard, and would be particularly helpful releasing the electric pace of Raheem Sterling, Daniel Sturridge and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

Furthermore, the support of Delph and Jordan Henderson in a three-man central midfield could more than compensate for Huddlestone’s lack of pace and allow him to drop between the centre-backs to find the ball.

Nathan Dyer, Swansea City

Nathan Dyer and Wayne Routledge have both been central figures in a revelatory Swansea City team so far this season, and this choice was a toss-up between the two.

The natural barrier to either’s progression is the strength in depth England possess in their wide positions, with Danny Welbeck, Sterling, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott all certainties for each squad.

The fluidity of the play at Swansea should be something England and Roy Hodgson can look to emulate, with their attractive football with the pace out wide causing teams trouble on quick breaks.

'Dyer would add another option for Hodgson'

‘Dyer would add another option for Hodgson’

Typically, Dyer started out at Southampton before his move to Swansea in 2009, and having retained his place despite promotion to the Premier League, he is now part of a well-oiled attacking midfield three alongside Routledge and Gylfi Sigurdsson.

Maybe the next friendly or routine qualifier could be an opportunity for Dyer to try and replicate his early season form on the big stage, having netted three times in his first three league games.

At 5’5″ he’s hardly Hulk on the wing, but his quick feet and experience of a slick footballing system at Swansea should make the step up to international football doable for him.

(Statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com)

Written by: Sam Cox – Cox’s Corner

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Let Them Eat Chips

It’s been a busy few days for Rio Ferdinand.

After discussing the continued fallout from the incident involving his brother, Anton Ferdinand, and John Terry, Rio moved onto helping his old Manchester United teammates to a 4-0 victory over his new Queens Park Rangers teammates, then finally concluded his weekend efforts by revealing his thoughts on David Moyes.

Undertaking such an effort requires considerable stamina on the part of Rio, and he will need to replenish his energy reserves now.  And what better way to do this than with a nice big bag of chips? Low fat, of course.

With hindsight, perhaps promoting your autobiography whilst trying to organise an average defence in a decidedly average team is more taxing than first imagined. Still, that book isn’t going to sell itself and needs must, so it’s on with the serialisation.

The footballing autobiography market has swollen considerably in recent years, the market saturated with mediocrity. For every revealing kernel of information tucked away near the back of the book, there are 200 odd pages of turgid, cliched prose to navigate first.

The forthcoming book by Peckham’s finest is unlikely to break from that illustrious tradition; Ferdinand will not be getting nominated for the Booker Prize any time soon.

Yet that’s not really relevant, is it? You wouldn’t buy a footballer’s biography expecting a work of substantial literary genius. You buy it to find out the nitty-gritty elements, to find out what really happened behind the closed doors and of course, uncover those foibles that were never released into the public domain.

On that last part, Rio certainly delivers.

There are numerous issues of contention surrounding David Moyes from his time as Manchester United manager; many of these were known during this period whilst others were suspected.

Ferdinand discusses these issues openly, but Moyes may well wish to consider his early decision to ban his players from eating low-fat chips on the eve of a game as a pivotal moment in the fracturing of the relationship with his new squad.

“We loved our chips” declares Rio before confirming that the decision by Moyes left the squad “pissed off.”

' Man Utd pre-match meal. Chips. And lots of them.'

‘ Man Utd pre-match meal. Chips. And lots of them.’

Sir Alex Ferguson had indulged his players with this culinary feast, yet here was Moyes banning highly paid athletes from eating chips the night before a game. How outrageous – the reaction of the squad that is, over such a straightforward issue and not the initial decision by Moyes.

It must be said that Ferdinand’s critique of Moyes thus far is pretty damming, but then Moyes’ record in charge of Man Utd does a fine job of that itself, culminating in his dismissal after just 10 months in charge.

Still, to hear such criticism from a senior member of the squad at that time is quite revealing.

Moyes didn’t man-manage Javier Hernandez correctly according to Ferdinand, nor did he possess a consistent idea of what he sought to achieve on the pitch with tactics varying wildly.

“The whole approach was alien. Other times Moyes wanted lots of passing. He’d say: ‘Today I want us to have 600 passes in the game. Last week it was only 400’. Who cares? I’d rather score five goals from 10 passes.”

'David Moyes aghast at the suggestion; he didn’t know what he was doing.'

‘David Moyes aghast at the suggestion; he didn’t know what he was doing.’

And that is the comment that gets to the heart of the matter; that the only consistency Moyes displayed in tactical matters was inconsistency.

Moyes was well known at Everton for researching his opponents and probably spent more time than any other Premier League manager researching his adversaries. Former players acknowledge this meticulous aspect of his management, the attention to detail as he prepared his players for future games.

It was a tactic that worked well against the majority of sides in the league but one that ultimately failed to reap little reward when Everton went toe-to-toe with a top-six side.

Moyes was and still is a reactionary manager. He studied his opponents so deeply to identify how to alter his set up and negate the opponent. In doing so, he altered his own tactics significantly. The problem at Manchester United is that approach will not work. Opponents wait for you and not the reverse. You have to be the pro-active team. You have to take the risks and set the agenda. For Moyes, that was a step too far:

“Moyes set us up not to lose. We’d been accustomed to playing to win.”

The Scot did a superb job at Everton during his tenure there. Critics will ask “what did he win?” neglecting to highlight that for many clubs in the Premier League, winning an actual trophy is no longer something that they can even hope to achieve; that “hope” has been removed from their vocabulary.

During his time at Everton, Moyes led the Goodison Park outfit to a top-seven finish in eight of his 11 seasons in charge. A fine achievement taking on board Everton’s finances which, in 2013, according to Deloitte, had Everton with the 10th-highest wage bill in the League.

Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski outlined in their book, Why England Lose, the strong relationship between wages and league finishing places.  On that basis, Everton were over-performing under Moyes, but part of the credit must also go to the likes of Bill Kenwright for running a steady financial ship too.

The step up from Everton to Man Utd was simply too great for Moyes and he was ultimately unable to adapt. We all saw the problems, perhaps best exemplified by the absurd tactic of repeatedly launching cross balls into the penalty area during one game against Fulham.

That Ferdinand would so openly criticise Moyes is the more revealing aspect. Only a cynical person would even dare to suggest that this criticism is at least partly fuelled by Moyes publicly dropping Ferdinand from the team in front of the whole squad – a move which Ferdinand himself admitted “killed me,” but I would never imply that was a motivating factor. Ever.

And so another footballing biography will be consigned to the Christmas stocking filler market in due course. The revelations are never really that revelatory, unfortunately.

Rio Ferdinand may actually be keeping those real secrets for his updated biography which, in time honored traditions, will appear before Christmas in a few years time.

I look forward to reading a new chapter detailing QPR’s relegation from the Premier League under Harry Redknapp and the subsequent dissection in forensic detail.

'Harry Redknapp at a drive thru ordering large fries (not chips)'

‘Harry Redknapp at a drive thru ordering large fries (not chips)’

“Arry had some good ideas, you know, but Financial Fair Play stopped him buying the players, you know, that he wanted to buy. We could have won everything, you know, if ‘Arry had been allowed to spend. He always let us eat chips though.”

Written by: chalkontheboots – Winging It

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Premier League Improvements: Can Other Sports Offer England’s Top Tier Something New?

In my last article, I debated just how the English Premier League could learn from other leagues. So once Sepp Blatter proclaimed this week that a TV replay system permitting coaches to contest a referee’s decision may be trialled in next year’s FIFA Under-20 World Cup, it got me thinking…could the Premier League, or just football in general, learn from other sports?

As I am a firm believer that the best ideas are stolen ones, I took a gander into the unknown.

Let’s start with TV replays then. Sepp enlightens us, whilst doing a superb impression of the Drive Thru lady from the film Dude Where’s My Car?, with this:

“Coaches will have the right in the half, twice or once, to challenge a refereeing decision but only when the game is stopped.

“Then, there must be a television monitor but by the television company and not by another referee. And then the referee and the coach, they will go then to look, and then the referee may change his mind, as it is the case in tennis, for instance.”

There is no doubt this has been a triumph in the world of tennis, as well as a variety of other sports such as ice hockey, basketball, rugby, baseball and cricket. However, is it transferrable to our much-loved game?

There is the longstanding argument that football’s beauty lies in its simplicity; a set of goals and a ball is all you will ever need. The controversy also adds to the spectacle, some might say, and then there is the concern that challenges will be executed to disrupt the opposition’s flow – a tactic with Jose Mourinho’s name carved all over it.

Still, football has now embraced technology in the form of goal-line cameras, and it’s hard to argue that this hasn’t been a success. Besides, you just have to go back to a single incident in football (that night in Paris with Thierry Henry) to confound all the sceptics.

No team should be absent from the world’s biggest competition the way Republic of Ireland were. For this reason alone, and I never thought I’d say this but, I concur with Sepp Blatter.

(Now for a shower; I feel dirty all over.)

'The incident which caused agreement with Blatter'

‘The incident which caused agreement with Blatter’

The next obvious sport to steal acquire from is Futsal. The benefits regarding technique development are clear, it’s been endorsed for years and implemented by many of the top teams in their youth set-up. To save me stating the obvious, educate yourself here if need be while we move on to another sport…

Rugby and its sin-bins – again a matter that has recently hit the headlines when Sir Alex Ferguson championed the idea at a recent UEFA meeting. There is a very strong argument to this, as I for one do not believe that the yellow card system works in its current capacity.

Simulation remains a considerable problem, and the reason is it’s not suitably punished. For example: a player dives in the 90th minute to win a penalty – if he is successful, he wins his team the match, possibly even the championship, if he isn’t, he gets a yellow card.

You cannot blame players for taking that gamble. How does a deliberate foul, which breaks up a potentially threatening attack, warrant the same punishment as a player who removes their shirt in celebration, or kicks a ball away in frustration?

It’s ridiculous. The punishments do not fit the crime and I, like many, believe sin-bins are a possible solution to this.

However, such a drastic change might not be necessary; football just needs to apply a common sense approach to these problems. A dive is a red card, dealt with retrospectively if need be, and an obvious foul to break up a potential goal scoring opportunity is a red card, too.

Stricter punishment for these wily wrongdoings is the way forward.

Whilst on the subject of Rugby, people have often said that Premier League referees should be kitted with a recorded microphone, which is also audible to the public. Unbeknown to many, an experiment did in fact take place back in 1989 in the English top division when Arsenal took on Millwall – here are the rather entertaining results.

This was also adopted in the A-League play-offs this year, and the Football Federation Australia CEO David Gallop said: “We believe the extra microphone is a significant step forward and gives fans a greater insight into what’s happening on the pitch”.

Not only would microphones enhance the supporter’s experience, but it also helps us comprehend the decisions made by the referee’s and restrain players from foul abusive language. More importantly, this audio could help prevent disgraceful incidents like that of October 28, 2012, where Chelsea made a formal complaint to the FA citing that referee Mark Clattenburg used inappropriate language,” during Chelsea’s 3-2 defeat of Manchester United, toward John Obi Mikel.

It was alleged after the encounter Chelsea players forced their way into his dressing room threatening to “break his legs,” all due to the fact Ramires heard the purported racial slur, but Ramires at the time could not speak fluent English.

Due to a lack of evidence all charges were dropped. Clattenburg said of the event, To know you were innocent of something but there was the opportunity for it to wreck your career was truly frightening. I hope no referee has to go through this in the future”. Hear, Hear.

Yet, incredibly, nothing has been done to prevent an incident like this happening all over again – an occurrence which could and can be prevented again with a simple solution: referees with a recorded microphone.

'We can rest easy now we know his hair is no longer a problem'

‘We can rest easy now we know his hair is no longer a problem’

Moving away from Rugby, we go to the world of WWE.

Yes, it’s technically not a sport and not real, but, I’m not talking about players running onto the pitch with pyrotechnics and their own theme music, or finishing off the opposition with their signature move, or even a player switching allegiances during a match (all brilliant possibilities, I’m sure you’ll agree).

What I’d love to see is the trash talking and promo’s you see before and after a contest; football has just become so dull with its pre-match and post-match interviews, managers playing down their chances of winning the title and being respectful of the opposition. Bore off.

We want entertainment. We all loved the infamous Kevin Keegan breakdown; he had passion and wasn’t afraid to show it, and this endeared him to us all. Another man famous for his passion was the great Brian Clough, for example when he went head to head with rival manager Don Revie.

This is what I want to see in our game, being open and honest and showing that they are determined to defeat their fiercest foe. Still not convinced? Well, check out this WWE promo and imagine Arsene Wenger talking about Jose Mourinho in the same manner, and I am certain you will agree.

So, do you think there are any other sports football can learn from? Timeouts similar to basketball perhaps? Possibly rolling substitutions as per hockey? It would be great to hear your thoughts as always.

The Oracle of Football has spoken. Follow me on twitter.

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Serie: England? How the Premier League Became the 21st Century’s Answer to Serie A

Arsenal’s 2-2 draw with Manchester City turned out to be just what the Premier League ordered as club football got back underway after the abrupt disruption of the international break.

Yet it wasn’t just the on-field action that got the pulses racing once more at the Emirates. After all, this was the first game of the first weekend since transfer deadline day, during which Danny Welbeck had traded the red of his boyhood club Manchester United for a new shirt with slightly different shade in North London.

It didn’t quite have the hot-headed melodrama of Roberto Baggio’s defection to Juventus from Fiorentina, but there were heavy hearts aplenty amongst his fans at Old Trafford.

The Emirates also saw Chelsea’s all-time record top scorer, Frank Lampard, line up for his first-ever competitive start for Manchester City, wearing a lighter hue of blue than he was used to, on loan from New York City FC. His unusual appearance soon launched a thousand memes of derision and confusion online.

Neither team lacked stars or match-winners, having both collected plenty of world beaters over the summer and previous transfer windows – Arsenal’s other landmark summer signing, Alexis Sanchez, scored one of the goals of the game – but the context of these two Englishmen and their moves within the Premier League seemed to hold a special sort of resonance.

Together they appear to confirm a shift in the appetite within clubs to do business across party lines, with players being traded between the rivals in England. It’s an openness that hasn’t always seemed to exist here ,yet it’s becoming increasingly common for fringe figures and even first-teamers to move sideways within a similar grouping of clubs.

In recent years, Robin van Persie and Juan Mata have both been lured to Old Trafford from the Emirates and Stamford Bridge respectively. Both still somehow seem strange and exotic, even months after their completion. England isn’t used to competing clubs trading key players; it seems almost anti-competitive – against the dog-eat-dog spirit of the Premier League – yet this willingness to cut such deals could finally help to confirm the English top flight as the rightful successor to the peak years of Serie A.

'From one big club...to another'

‘From one big club…to another’

For many of those who tuned in to watch Football Italia every weekend during its original 10-year run on Channel 4, no league competition has come close the 90’s boom of Italian football. Between 1992 and 2002, James Richardson carved out a special place in the nation’s footballing affections; a period during which Serie A was widely considered to be the greatest league in Europe.

It boasted a fantastically rich and varied tapestry of clubs competing for the title, and a then-unparalleled concentration of talent, with most of the world’s very best players drawn by the financial power of the league and its teams.

Yet it also enjoyed an almost cult appeal within its fanbase borne out of the sophisticated drama of its central conflict: Low-scoring games creating a scarcity of goals in a league with an overabundance of world class talent. Defences were mean and tactics were cautious so when the ball finally did hit the back of the net, it was usually through some piece of otherworldly skill.

The Premier League will never be able to match up in this regard, but the pace and power of its spectacle has its own qualities.

Channel 4’s ground-breaking coverage of Serie A bought into this cult factor, and was as unexpectedly successful as it was witty and intimate in how it approached the league. Much of its early impetus came from the enthusiasm generated by England’s performance at the 1990 World Cup in Italy, and the transfer of Paul Gascoigne to the peninsula two years later.

Both the tournament and Gazza of course sparked a similar resurgence in interest and development in English football, which eventually led to the formation of the Premier League in the same year as Football Italia’s debut season on air. It’s rather fitting that they set off from the same starting line, and while the Premier League may not hold the same cerebral status as Serie A once did, in sheer monetary terms, England’s elite league now stands above all others.

It could be argued that it has picked up where the Italian top flight left off.

English football fans have long gazed upon the transfer updates coming out of Italy with a mixture of bemusement and curiosity as the league’s best footballers appeared to use the country’s regular title-contenders as a merry-go-round of allegiances on which to play out their careers.

Such a fluid approach to loyalty played a big part in making Serie A such a powerful and engrossing competition in decades past, with the league able to retain its quality rather than leaking it out to foreign leagues. Though British players have rarely cared for moves abroad – the Premier League now seems similarly self-contained – and yet due to the undiminished hunger to bring in ever-greater talents from abroad, the standard only continue to rise.

Its untouchable financial muscle allows it to attract and retain many of the game’s greatest players, and having sent 110 of them off to Brazil this summer, it can claim to have provided the most individuals of any league to play at the FIFA World Cup 2014. More have arrived since the end of the tournament. And though most Premier League footballers require a certain level of athleticism to compete in the fast-paced, end-to-end battles that play out on England’s pitches, there isn’t any era of any competition that wouldn’t be beautified by the presence of players such as David Silva.

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Thanks to the inflated gains of the new, league-wide TV deal too, even clubs near the bottom of the English top flight can now outspend the biggest clubs in Portugal, Russia, Netherlands and beyond. As if to ram the point home, Hull City’s outlay this summer was more than the combined transfer spend of Italy’s top clubs besides Juventus.

Arsenal versus City was already an unusually relevant fixture to the comparison of the Premier League to Serie A’s 90s peak even before Welbeck and Lampard; the dealings between the Emirates and the Etihad laid the foundations for what was to come. Following Sheikh Mansour’s takeover City developed something of a habit for relieving Arsenal of their least secure playing assets. Along with Chelsea, they raised the stakes of the competition, much like how the sugar daddies who backed Serie A upstarts such as Parma helped to cause Italy’s title race and transfer market to overheat.

Serie A shattered the records and made £15 million signings mundane, just a few years after such a figure would have set the world transfer record. With the assistance of Spain’s two richest clubs, the Premier League has raised prices ever further.

It would have seemed absurd to talk of deals in the region of £25 and £30 million being commonplace just a couple of years ago, and yet now we find ourselves in that very position. Today even offers of around £50 million are now seen as ambitious yet feasible figures at the upper-limit of what’s expected, rather than rare and historic sums unlikely to be seen on a regular basis.

The bubble will one day burst just as it did in Italy – possibly sooner than many could bear to believe – but until then the golden light that once shone kindly upon Serie A looks set to continue to intensify its focus on the hedonism of the Premier League.

It’s a different yet related beast, similarly isolated by its financial power, and so probably set to suffer an inevitable, comparable doom, but given the goals and glamour on offer, few are likely to complain.

Written by: Greg Johnson

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The Numerous Deficiencies at Queens’ Park Rangers

Many different opinions have been put forward over these past few weeks, as Premier League fans feast upon the latest happenings in the division and debate them. One, which hasn’t been at all in question, has been regarding Queens Park Rangers.

Managed by the infamous ‘Arry Redknapp and possessing some extremely respectable names, the Hoops have been diabolical this season – and their problems go further than the fact that they have after-goal music at their home stadium, and the fact that Karl Henry recently registered a game in their colours.

In this article, I look at where it’s all gone wrong for the newly promoted Londoners, and look at the reasons for their catastrophic start to the season. There are many, I know, but I tried to fit in those which I feel are the most significant.

1: The Formation

A system which is somewhat fashionable this season, the QPR staff decided that playing three centre-backs and two wing-backs would give their players the best chance of success. On paper, this is reasonable; the side from Loftus Road aren’t the strongest defensively, and this formation gives an emphasis on the defensive side of the game.

However, something that should also be taken into account is the roster of players on offer and the suitability of this formation to them. Quite frankly, for the QPR players, it’s not a good fit.

The major defensive problem that QPR have struggled to deal with is the left central position of the five; a role that has been occupied, mostly, by Clint Hill and Richard Dunne. As the masterful Gary Neville pointed out on the ever-brilliant Monday Night Football, neither of these two possess the pace, attributes or mentality for this role.

''Dunne does not possess the attributes to successfully play QPR's formation'

”Dunne does not possess the attributes to successfully play QPR’s formation’

These players needs to occupy both the centre of the defence on his side and the left side of the defence when the left-wing-back is forward. Clint Hill, of all people, shouldn’t be playing this role; it is something that a young, fast and athletic defender should be doing, much like Steven Caulker on the right.

Something Neville didn’t point out, though, was the midfield. The sound of a “diamond midfield” is good; it sounds like a balanced midfield that covers all areas. However, the players in it aren’t balanced enough.

Individually, they are more than adequate – Niko Kranjcar is a tried-and-tested footballer, David Hoilett has the ability to beat a man and Sandro was certainly one of the most spectacular coups of the transfer window – but, balance-wise, it should have Harry Redknapp pulling his hair out.

Offensively, the purpose of this formation is to have the wing-backs covering the sides of the pitch, and a solid, wall-like midfield. QPR’s, though, is much the opposite; there are wingers ahead of the wing-backs which congest the sides, and when defending, the sole holding midfielder is Sandro.

He, who as I mentioned is a solid player, can’t do it all himself, and that is why we saw the likes of Angel di Maria and Erik Lamela have so much space to work in against this outfit. The diamond, simply put, needs to be more compact. This so-called defensive formation hasn’t served them well at all on that front, with the team conceding 11 goals in their first six games, but it isn’t the formation that is too wrong, it is more the shape which will need a colossal amount of fine-tuning if it is to be a success.

2: Lack of a Goalscorer

Certainly not as controllable a situation as the one above, this problem was evident as soon as the brilliant Loic Remy was tapped up by Chelsea.

Solely leading the line now is Charlie Austin, who, although good in the Championship, has struggled thus far in England’s top-tier. Remy’s move, though, was almost inevitable – with the likes of Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea circling throughout the transfer window – so it is a problem that, undoubtedly, should have been dealt with prior to the deal.

'Loic Remy – the missing goalscorer.'

‘Loic Remy – the missing goalscorer.’

Evidence of the fact that QPR are craving a striker comes in statistical form. A site which regular readers of mine will know is very dear to me, WhoScored.com, have “finishing scoring chances” as a ‘very weak’ aspect of the Rangers’ play, and this reflects my point.

A move was made on this front, admittedly, and that is a move which I haven’t forgotten. Chilean international Eduardo Vargas came into the team toward the end of the summer transfer window, as an almost indirect replacement for Remy, but I feel this attacker is an overhyped player; someone who receives plaudits and makes you say “wow” after he nutmegs two players consecutively, but who ends up with a goal tally so ordinary that it isn’t even in double figures.

3 – The Manager

A point that may well prove to be somewhat controversial or unpopular, I don’t think Redknapp is the right man to take QPR forward. Loved by most, ‘Arry is the darling of football managers, and many people have taken a liking to the English boss due to his charismatic and warm personality.

I am among said people and, unusually for a Gooner, I like ‘Arry but – and although he has had much success in relegation battles in the past – I don’t think he’ll prevail in this one.

He is a great man-manager, that is for sure. When brought into a squad low on morale and near the bottom of the table, he is often the catalyst of an unlikely revival. His method in doing this is almost cheering up the players, showing his passion to breathe a breath of fresh air into the club as a whole, and often changing the system.

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At the moment, though, I can only see his men going one way: down.

He has tried to alter his formations and systems as previously spoken about, but as also previously discussed, he has been completely unsuccessful. Love him or hate him, you can’t argue that Redknapp is the best tactician around, and I feel someone leading with a tad more tactical nous from the touchline could spark something within this team.

The boss, once so close to an England role, is far too prehistoric with his choices and someone fresh-faced and with new ideas will do a far superior job.

We all know about the manager’s favourite group of players. The likes of Niko Kranjcar will always be dear in the ex-Spurs hero’s heart, and understandably so – the particular group have done a very effective job under Redknapp when he has signed them. The problem, however, is that these players are too old now, and the London-born gaffer is yet to come to terms with that.

His dated choices, which clearly haven’t come off this season, mean that – bluntly – he has to go.

These are only three of the numerous problems that are visible at Loftus Road this season, but in my opinion, these are three of the most significant. If QPR are to stay in this division, they’re going to need to up their game – both on and off the pitch.

Written by: Deano Spyrou – Spyrou Speaks

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uMAXit ‘Team of the Week’ (13th – 15th September)

TOTW 5

Ben Hamer

Winning at the Brittania Stadium is such a challenge that it is considered the benchmark for any team as an achievement.

If you just ask any of the top clubs then it is one of the places they would least like to play, yet Hamer and his Leicester teammates managed to get the victory there on Saturday.

Twenty-seven shots were fired Hamer’s way during their 1-0 win, and his eight saves helped bring his side a priceless three points.

Pablo Zabaleta

 The marauding Argentine right-back didn’t exactly set the world alight on Saturday lunch time, but his performance, rendering Mesut Ozil into a quiet, ineffective role, was vital

It saw Ozil register only 70 touches in the match, far below his average since arriving in the Premier League.

Vincent Kompany

 It may seem a surprising choice to include two from a back-four that conceded a couple of goals, but Kompany was immense for the majority of the game.

The Belgian made it a difficult debut for the hardworking Danny Welbeck and typically marshalled the defence against Arsenal’s tidy passing game, whilst simultaneously  restricting any influence for Mesut Ozil.

The physical battle with Welbeck was an intriguing duel throughout, and we all know how crucial Kompany’s fitness is to City’s title chances.

Nathan Baker

 Up against the inconsistent Mario Balotelli, Baker and Philippe Senderos provided a secure and organised rearguard as Liverpool’s attack lacked cutting edge.

A defence including Aly Cissokho, Senderos and Alan Hutton doesn’t exactly sound like it could stop a team that scored over 100 league goals last season, but somehow they pulled it off.

The changes to introduce the dazzling Raheem Sterling along with Fabio Borini and Rickie Lambert hardly added to the Liverpool threat, and Villa held on to start their excellent start to the campaign.

Ryan Bertrand

 As one of several new signings at Southampton, it was feared that the mass exodus may cause a slow start as the team waited for new players to gel. Bertrand has proved that theory wrong with a very assured start to his career at Saints, filling the berth left by Luke Shaw comfortably and providing an outlet outside Dusan Tadic down the left.

Newcastle United may have been dire on Saturday, but Southampton excelled at making the most of a lacklustre opponent.

Daley Blind

 A defensive midfielder at Manchester United?! Yes, we are all shocked that they may have finally bought someone who has been so needed for so long.

With 122 touches of the ball, his safeguarding midfield possession helped give a secure basis for all the attacking talent Manchester United had on display and dominate the game.

With the looks of a boy band member and 96 percent pass accuracy, he is an almighty upgrade on Tom Cleverley, Anderson and Marouane Fellaini.

Jack Wilshere

This season was always going to be crucial for Wilshere and he has started it magnificently, leaping out of Aaron Ramsey’s shadow and putting in several top-quality performances.

His sweet, dinked finish over Joe Hart for the equaliser finished off a smart run, and he comfortably beat Gael Clichy as well as assisted Alexis Sanchez’s goal. Ten completed dribbles was more than Sergio Aguero, Jesus Navas and David Silva managed combined in the lunchtime kick-off.

Angel Di Maria

With Ander Herrera unfortunate to miss out on selection this week, Di Maria takes his place in the eleven after seemingly covering every blade of grass at Old Trafford on Sunday afternoon.

There was an element of fluke about his goal, but Di Maria has already taken to English football like a duck to water, and Manchester United looked a much better side already (albeit against a very poor QPR side.)

He grabbed an assist for Juan Mata’s goal.

Alexis Sanchez

 First of all, what a goal that was from Alexis: The technique to hit a ball dropping over your shoulder first time is something special.

Admittedly, I have been a tad inventive with the formation to fit he and Angel Di Maria in, with Sanchez playing from the right this weekend and Di Maria featuring in a far more central role.

Sanchez currently looks another example of how the very best hardly seem to need the time to adapt to the Premier League, as his energy, pace and skill inject something into the Arsenal attack that many others fail to do.

The Chilean’s direct running must be terrifying for a defence to face up to.

Graziano Pelle

With his astonishing goal record so far in his career, pressure is on Pelle to reproduce a similar vein of form in England.

Two goals in the first 19 minutes at St Mary’s Stadium for him as good as killed the game and left Newcastle’s already low confidence completely shot.

The requirement to step into the boots of fan hero, Rickie Lambert, is a big one but a few more braces may just sweeten Pelle up to the fans that bit more.

Diego Costa

It’s seven goals in four league games now for Costa and he looks like an absolute monster with the service of Cesc Fabregas and Eden Hazard behind him.

His hat-trick against Swansea clearly won Chelsea the game as he led the line like no one has done in Chelsea blue since Didier Drogba’s days.

He bullied Swansea’s centre-backs with powerful play and finished superbly; Chelsea may finally have the striker they have needed for years, and he looks hungry to build on his magnificent 2013-14 season.

DONKEY OF THE WEEK 

Alan Pardew

Bizarre transfer decisions over the summer may have seen Hatem Ben Arfa and Sylvain Marveaux leave, but many thought the Magpies had done decent business in the players they had brought in.

Their record of one victory in twelve league matches does not make for pretty reading, however, considering that also included a potential career-ending headbutt that Pardew somehow managed to keep his job through.

This weekend they were humiliated with an inept performance at Southampton, and it wouldn’t be a shock if Pardew was unemployed before the next game.

Written by: Sam Cox

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