Rewind back to February 2014. Geneva peace talks to resolve the Syrian Crisis have ended in failure, Scientists at the Australian National University have discovered the universe’s oldest star, and more importantly than any of this, only six points separate the bottom ten Premier League teams after 24 games. Although all relegations were confirmed by the last day of the season, it was still one of the most captivating relegation battles in the history of the Premier League, confirming its status as the most exciting and well-rounded league in the world. Now, we are just 20 days away from the commencement of the Premier League campaign. This article will look at which current Premier League clubs are set to experience the relegation dogfight, and what they have done (or mostly haven’t done) to put them in such a precarious situation…
Last year’s Premier League new boys endured a reasonably comfortable year, with a superb FA Cup run to the final ending in heart-breaking fashion. They spent most of last year nestled gently around mid-table, however by the end they flirted with relegation and only four points separated them from Championship football – perhaps an indicator of their meagre squad. Given their imminent participation (provided they beat either Slovakia’s FK AS Trencin or Vojvodina of Serbia) in Europe’s less prestigious competition; the Europa League, it would not be wise to presume safety is in any way secure nor likely for the Tigers. Qualifying trips to Slovakia and Serbia could prove extremely detrimental for Hull’s pre-season, and unless they miraculously fail to conquer FS AS Trencin or Vojvodina, Assem Allam will have more to ponder over than just the name of the club. As proven in recent years, the competition can destroy a club’s domestic form. Take the likes of Tottenham, Newcastle and Swansea for example, who have all failed to maximize their Premier League form whilst simultaneously trying to compete amongst Europe’s less supreme. The reason is simple and logical – Thursday night trips to countries such as Latvia and Belarus require long journeys and, consequently, less preparation time for weekend fixtures. This causes injuries, which then causes deterioration of form. Even Tottenham, who by spending 100 million last summer also obtained a substantial squad, seriously struggled to maintain domestic form. For a country whose physical demands are so prodigious and for a squad so slim, the Europa League could prove to be pivotal in Hull’s survival.
Having said this, they have shown promising intent in the transfer window. Current signings include Jake Livermore, Robert Snodgrass, Harry Maguire, Andrew Robertson and the greatly sought after Tom Ince, who are all competent players likely to start. Despite their admirable efforts, you still feel their squad will be short for such a daunting season in prospect.
Burnley are one of three of the Premier League’s newly promoted clubs and are in danger for entirely different reasons to Hull. Although they will not have to tolerate the injurious lures of the Europa League, their squad is arguably the worst in the league and their work in the transfer window has been pretty inadequate so far. Striker Lukas Jutkiewicz, the Clarets’ most recent acquisition, was described by manager Sean Dyche as “a physical presence who can hold the ball up and link play.” He has also said that there are “goals in him”, which is strange given he has only has a modest total of 53 in 234 career appearances… Other arrivals include Steven Reid, a 33 year old released from West Brom, Michael Kightly, deemed surplus to requirements by Stoke, Matt Gilks, previously one of Blackpool’s only senior players remaining, Marvin Sordell, who was cited as peripheral to Bolton’s plans, and Matt Taylor, released by West Ham. What all have in common is that they are pretty mediocre and substandard for any squad with aspirations to avoid relegation.
Should Burnley wish to stay afloat, it is paramount to their success that they invest heavily to strengthen both defence and midfield. Their hope for safety this season lies in the hands of their deadly duo up top – Sam Voakes and Danny Ings. During Burnley’s last season, the pair accumulated 41 Championship goals between them and dovetailed with proficiency. Also, in Dyche they have an adept manager who thrives on making the most out of a small budget. He has already done exceptionally well to get the Clarets promoted, and should he manage to steer them clear of relegation it shall be a remarkable achievement.
3. West Brom
If ever you need an example of how not to run a football club, look no further than West Brom. In February 2011, they sacked Roberto Di Matteo prior to him triumphing in Europe’s most notorious competition with Chelsea. Exhibit two of how not to run a football club comes in Steve Clarke’s incomprehensible sacking, who had lead them to their highest ever points total in the previous season. His replacement, the cuddly-looking Pepe Mel, was mercilessly sacked by the end of the same season after less than 20 games in charge. Now, for unfathomable reasons, Alex Irvine has been appointed manager. Irvine’s current CV includes tenures at Preston North End and Sheffield Wednesday – where he was sacked both times – and a win percentage of 33% at Wednesday hardly sparks promise for the Baggies. He was also David Moyes’ assistant for much of his time at Preston and Everton, which he’ll probably want to keep quite about (sorry, Alan) and was in charge of the latter’s academy for the last three years.
Their signings have been questionable, but don’t call for total despair. The club has broken their record transfer fee to land striker Brown Ideye for 10 million. He’s described as a “strong, quick and powerful’ by manager Irvine, and has scored 74 goals in 182 career league appearances, despite his omission from Nigeria’s provisional World Cup squad. Other signings include former Premier League winner Jolean Lescott, Sebastian Pocognoli, Chris Baird and Craig Gardener; not great. Perhaps what is more alarming for them is the departure of former player Morgan Amalfitano, who spent the season on loan with the Baggies and was inspirational in keeping them up. His legendary goals scored against Manchester United and Cardiff will be sorely missed.
With a month to go in the transfer window, you feel as though there is still plenty of time for all three clubs to amend squads and have a prosperous season. For Hull, they have a superb nucleus of a team, which is more than capable of staying up. The real question to consider is whether or not they have the strength in depth to cope with the brutal demands of European football. Burley’s situation is simpler – spend or suffer. Currently, their squad is not capable of staying up. Regarding West Brom, it’s more of an enigmatic situation: no one knows how Irvine will do. From his current managerial record, most will be skeptical of his and the Baggies chances of survival. Should the right signing be made in August, all three could still stay up.
Other notable mentions go to QPR, who are undoubtedly a few signings short themselves, Aston Villa, who by signing Joe Cole, Philippe Senderos and Kieran Richardson are practically begging for another insipid season, and possibly Leicester – just to pick on the new boys.
So, everyone, who do you think will go down?
Written by: Milo Black – The Preacher
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The party in Turin was only just getting started. Black and white stripes swarmed Piazza San Carlo, the city’s famed square. Flags and flares were ubiquitous, Caval ëd Brons, the local equestrian statue, was buried in scarves; “Juve, Juve! O cara squadra senza età…” another chant began. The Juventus faithful were, of course, celebrating another title, or so they thought. Over six-hundred miles away in Reggio Calabria, where the Old Lady had just defeated Reggina, the TV crew were preparing to record some major footage – and it wasn’t skipper Alessandro Del Piero lifting the club’s 29th Scudetto. Luciano Moggi, Juventus’ general manager, was about to confirm his widely-anticipated resignation following the revelation that the Italian top-flight was at the centre of a formal investigation.
Six weeks later, the outcome was settled; five sides were deducted points, but no one suffered as much punishment as Juventus. Relegation to Serie B, stripped of their 2005 and 2006 titles, exiled from the Champions League and fined more than £30m, the Bianconeri were in crisis and it was about to get a lot worse. Head coach Fabio Capello had already departed for Real Madrid, and the rest of the squad weren’t sticking around, either. Star man Zlatan Ibrahimović and towering midfielder Patrick Vieira would join Inter Milan – who were given Juventus’ stripped scudetti – for a combined £26m, defenders Gianluca Zambrotta and Lillian Thuram both left for Barcelona whilst midfield linchpin Émerson and world-cup winning captain Fabio Cannavaro would follow Capello to the Spanish capital. Decimated and derailed, there hasn’t quite been an exodus of this nature ever since. Until now.
Southampton fans might be forgiven for thinking Moggi had sneaked through the back doors at St.Mary’s this summer and somehow riled the Football Association. In fact, Moggi is innocent here. Southampton’s regretful consequence has been their success. Enjoying the best of their fifteen Premier League seasons to date has seen the Saints to suffer a mass evacuation, not too dissimilar to Juventus eight years ago. Akin to their Italian counterparts, the manager was the first to disappear; Mauricio Pochettino opting to become Tottenham’s ninth coach in just over thirteen years. A managerial exit is enough to upset a club’s long-term plans, but accumulated with player sales, ambitions patently become unobtainable. Rickie Lambert’s transfer to Liverpool was quickly followed by Luke Shaw’s move to Manchester United. Anfield then welcomed Adam Lallana and Dejan Lovren, too, whilst this week Arsenal took advantage of the carnage on the South Coast, adding highly-rated defender Calum Chambers to their squad. The sales of the quintet – four of them English – boosted Southampton’s bank account by around £92m, but fans’ worries over the season ahead are understandable.
New coach Ronald Koeman, once a multi-talented centre-half with Holland, Barcelona, Ajax and PSV Eindhoven, insists he is unfazed by all the drama – perhaps because he knew all this was coming before his appointment in June. Reports suggest “he was always aware” the exodus would take place. On Tuesday, Southampton’s key midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin met with Chairman Ralph Krueger at the club’s training ground where the Frenchman was told he and coveted forward Jay Rodriguez would not be sold. Pochettino wants the duo to follow him to White Hart Lane; player power usually triumphs in these scenarios.
Brighter news for Saints fans comes in the shape of Serbian winger Dušan Tadić and Italian striker Graziano Pellè. The former, signed for £10.9m from Twente, ought to feel the void left by Lallana, whilst the latter, who has spent the last two years with Koeman at Feyenoord, cost circa £9m and will help replace Lambert up top. Chelsea left-back Ryan Bertrand will step into Shaw’s shoes, for a season at least.
Southampton’s debts, which include a £30m bill for the club’s new state-of-the-art training ground, will be eased through cash brought in this summer. With a fortnight to go until their Premier League campaign gets underway, ironically against Liverpool, Koeman, Kruger and the rest of the board must act quickly. The next addition should be Inter Milan’s Algerian international Saphir Taïder, who will arrive on loan with disillusioned Italian Pablo Osvaldo heading the other way. Aston Villa centre-half Ron Vlaar, who impressed thoroughly in Brazil with Holland, may be Lovren’s replacement, though other sides are also interested in the tough 29-year old.
Some question whether the club will survive relegation; for a side that finished eighth last season, such talk reveals the true mess at St.Mary’s. Southampton may not be a European super club or relegated like Juventus, but the English team can learn a few things of the Serie A side – a smart managerial appointment (Didier Deschamps), a couple of shrewd signings (Cristiano Zanetti, Marco Marchionni et al) and adhering to the clubs’ philosophy on the field can help the Saints get back on their feet.
It may take some time, but clever work from Koeman and co should ensure the 32,000 at St.Mary’s can enjoy a sixteenth season in the Premier League.
Written by: Sam Collins – Sam’s Slot
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The Premier League is one of the biggest stages for the next generation of young football stars to make their name.
Over the years we’ve seen the likes of Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and most recently Ross Barkley, all make their name playing in England’s top flight. So, who’s next?
Ryan Ledson – Everton
“Lego” as his Everton teammates call him, is anything but a small block of plastic. The young central midfielder is heading into his 12th year on Merseyside, at just 16-years old. Last season, he became a full scholar of the academy at Everton and having already made two appearances for the U-21s, he is now a full-time member of the squad.
Such was his progress in 2013/14, he even made the senior bench for a Premier League game late in the season before heading to Malta to captain England Under-17s to European Championship glory. He even converted a penalty in the decisive shootout win over Holland.
Why you need to know him:
Ledson has already said he prides himself on his passing and tackling, much like Everton and England’s latest star, Ross Barkley. He also says he plays a lot like Frank Lampard, dictating play, getting forward and helping to provide for those around him.
His 19 games for Everton’s U-21s at just 16 are staggering, making him the youngest player ever in the competition. Don’t be surprised if you see Ledson coming off the bench at some point this season. He’s one very much for the future.
Jack Grealish – Aston Villa
This tricky-winger who wears his socks like Thomas Müller is being tipped to breakthrough into Aston Villa’s first-team in 2014/15, despite just two minutes of first-team action to his name.
Grealish has impressed massively on Villa’s pre-season tour of America, playing 45 minutes spells against Dallas and Houston alongside the rest of the first-team.
Why you need to know him:
Having made a great impression on-loan at Notts County in 2013/14 with 5 goals and 7 assists in 37 games, 18-year old Grealish is biting at the opportunity for a new contract at Villa Park and a first-team chance.
His skinny frame could be seen as vulnerable, but with quick feet and a supreme burst of pace, Grealish already has many aspects of a Premier League player. He’s also been able to represent the Republic of Ireland’s U-21s five times, scoring once.
Being able to play down the left or through the middle of midfield means Lambert has the chance to experiment and see where Grealish can fit best into his team. Wherever he plays, make sure you look for his low hanging socks and slick-back hair.
Callum Robinson – Aston Villa
Having played against Callum on a number of occasions in Northampton’s junior football leagues, I have first hand experience of another of Aston Villa’s young players’ quality, even if we were only 9/10-years old.
The pacey forward with a bullet shot has already made 5 appearances for Aston Villa’s first-team, and made his mark internationally. 3 goals in 5 England U-19s games, coupled with his club form has earned him a new 2-year contract.
Why you need to know him:
It’s easy to see why Paul Lambert introduced Callum Robinson into first-team football last season with at Villa Park. His 11 goals and 5 assists in 18 Premier League U-21 games made him one of the most prolific strikers in the league.
Robinson’s style of play is very similar to that of Gabby Agbonlahor, he uses his pays to his advantage down the wings, but seems a lot more confident in terms of taking shots from outside the box, with one of his best England goals coming from range.
You’d expect him to be given more opportunities at Villa Park this season, much like Jack Grealish. In April, Paul Lambert spoke on Robinson to the Birmingham Mail saying, “He’s been doing really well with the reserves. He’s got years and years to go before he can be classified as a massive professional footballer.
“But he’s on the right little ladder at the moment and he’s a really great kid. I think I’ve always said if your good enough I’ll play you. He’s deserves his chance.”
Ruben Loftus-Cheek – Chelsea
With such a unique surname, it won’t be difficult to remember this young man; you won’t want to forget him, either. Standing at 6ft 4 in the centre of midfield, Loftus-Cheek is hard to miss when playing.
Couple that with his raw strength, power and increasing passing attributes and you’ve got a young player well worth watching.
Why you need to know him:
The 18-year old is part of a very talented group of players currently on the Cobham conveyor belt to the first-team, but unlike so many before him, he might actually make it all the way.
The money of Roman Abramovich and the opportunity it has brought Chelsea managers in the past, has meant that many young academy talents have been forgotten by Chelsea. At this stage, Loftus-Cheek is likely to be sent out on loan to gain vital first-team experience, as so many young players are.
But having captained Chelsea to an FA Youth Cup win last season, Loftus-Creek has been receiving admirable amounts of praise from around Europe. He’s a willing outlet for defenders and his first look with the ball is always forward. His size and stature have seen him compared to Yaya Toure, along with his box-to-box style of play.
With just one youth team graduate currently in Chelsea’s first-team (John Terry) it will be a challenge for him to break through. But Chelsea have tied him down to long-term contract and would be wise to give him a first-team chance in the coming years.
Sam Gallagher – Southampton
Southampton have been in the press an awful lot recently, as we all know. The rate in which they’ve been selling players this summer is astounding, but the fact that they have sold 3 of their best academy products must be frustrating for the Saints fans.
With Southampton’s academy so strong and able to produce talented youngsters so consistently, it’s easy to suggest we can see more in the future. Sam Gallagher could be one of the next in line, with Lambert being sold to Liverpool.
Why you need to know him:
This 6ft 4 striker has been a complete handful for youth teams that he’s played against, as most players his size are. He showed this on his debut for the Southampton U16s when he scored a hat-trick having joined from Plymouth.
He made his first-team debut back in November of last year and made 18 appearances in the Premier League last season, all from the bench. As I mentioned, this season could be his big chance under new manager Ronald Koeman. Lambert has been replaced by Pellè and Gallagher could be seen as his back-up.
The 18-year old, like all the players on this list, has appeared on the international stage at youth level. Gallagher switched alliances from Scotland to England in March and scored on his U19 debut.
With lack of youth products staying at St Mary’s for a long period of time, Gallagher could be the shining light that Southampton need at the moment.
Written by: Alex Chaffer
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The World Cup was great, and as always, some players have earnt themselves moves to our wonderful league. Here I review five World Cup stars arriving on our shores this summer.
David Ospina – Arsenal
Ospina featured in every one of Colombia’s World Cup games, demonstrating his well-rounded abilities from the beginning till the end. The Colombian number one would have been in contention for the Golden Glove award if Colombia could have made it past Brazil in the quarterfinal. I personally thought his performances were on a par with Costa Rica’s Keylor Navas, the eventual runner up for the award.
The athletic shot-stopper will finally put an end to the trend of error-prone Arsenal goalkeepers, which has plagued the North London club ever since Jens Lehmann left in 2008. Ospina has been playing his club football in France with Nice since he was 18, staying well under the radar and in the shadow of the likes of Hugo Lloris and Steven Mandanda. The World Cup finally acted as the platform he needed to assert himself as one of the best goalkeepers in Europe. A highly dependable number one, I don’t expect it will take Arsene Wenger long to recognise that Ospina is the most efficient option of his current goalkeeping crop. The need for Polish stopper Wojciech Sczcęsny to be consistent is now more important than ever (if he still has hopes of being the number one). With Arsenal paying French club Nice just £3.2 million for the 25-year old, this might well end up being the bargain of the transfer window.
Enner Valencia – West Ham United
Enner Valencia was one of the lesser-known commodities coming into the World Cup with Ecuador. An unknown who still played his club football in his home country with Pachuca, he proved to be one of the best South American players on show in Brazil. James Rodríguez (Colombia), Leo Messi (Argentina) and Neymar (Brazil) were the only South American players able to boast a better scoring record in the tournament.
A powerful and dynamic forward player, Valencia was staggeringly only converted to a centre forward in the past year. Until then, he operated exclusively out wide due to his one v one ability. His tremendous athleticism coupled with his sharp-shooting instincts resulted in him being tested down the middle, where his game has improved at double the rate. The national coach Reinaldo Rueda was left with a dilemma ahead of the World Cup, when star striker Christian Benítez was tragically killed in a car crash. This was one of the factors that contributed to Valencia’s move down the middle; he needed a dynamic player to fill the void left by the passing of Benítez. An explosive forward now well versed in a variety of attacking positions, it’s easy to see why Pachuca were able to raise the asking price for Valencia. The London club had to push through tough negotiations to land the Ecuadorian for an eventual £12 million – Sam Allardyce clearly believes he has something special on his hands.
Muhamed Bešić – Everton
It was the 15th June 2014, Argentina v Bosnia… I came to watch Messi at the Maracanã, I left more impressed with a Bosnian midfielder. Muhamed Bešić was his name – and he put in a complete midfield performance against the Argentinean giants. The 21-year old put on a delightful display of energy, dynamism and technical ability. On the biggest stage of his career to date, Bešić rose to the occasion and then some. Bosnia ultimately failed to quality but the midfielder maintained a consistent level of performance throughout the group stages.
That was enough to convince Roberto Martinez to make him Everton’s second summer signing, a season in which they hope to push for that 4th Champions League spot. Bešić began his career in Germany with SV Hamburg, but only went on to make 3 appearances for the first team. A move to Ferencváros and the benefit of regular football accelerated his development, enough for Safet Sušić to make him Miralem Pjanić’s midfield partner in Brazil. His talents have found a spectacular match in an Everton side led by Roberto Martinez. The Toffees boss clearly sees the Bosnian as an exciting project, but don’t be surprised to see the midfielder slot right into his system from day one. He is the epitome of the new age midfielder: an athlete who combines his technical skills with excellent game understanding. £4 million is the fee that Everton will pay Ferencváros for him; another outstanding coup by a Premiership team for a young World Cup star.
Jefferson Montero – Swansea City
Enner Valencia will be coming up against his national compatriot next season, after Jefferson Montero also decided to join him on the lucrative road to the Premiership. The tricky wide player was the enigma of the Ecuadorian side in Brazil, working alongside Valencia to ensure Ecuador were able to hold their own with the bigger nations. Unlike Valencia, Montero has previously tested his skills outside of South America. The winger has spent time in Spain with Villarreal, Levante and Real Betis as a youngster – but his career in La Liga never really took flight. Now aged 24, the benefit of regular football has done wonders for his progression, priming him for another shot at the top leagues.
A powerful and skillful dribbler, Montero is most effective when played wide on the left (where he featured in all 3 World Cup games). He came up against some stiff tests in the group stages, most notably Mathieu Debuchy and Stephan Lichtsteiner. Even up against top European full backs, he was consistently able to find joy in one form or another. In pure one-on-one situations between winger and full back, Montero was among the best on show in Brazil. He possesses an effective blend of power, pace and dribbling ability – something Garry Monk has clearly identified with Swansea’s 4-3-3 and 4-5-1 variations in mind. The Welsh club have paid just £4 million for the Ecuadorian, another player on this list that seems to be criminally under-compensated for.
Alexis Sánchez – Arsenal
Last but by no means least, by far the most high profile World Cup star coming to the Premier League this year, and a man who needs no introduction. Alexis Sánchez played a lead role in Jorge Sampaoli’s highly entertaining Chile side this summer. Chipping in with 2 goals and 2 assists, he was the extra bit of quality Chile needed to compliment their aggressive, relentless style of play.
A high-energy winger, Sánchez is unlike anything Arsenal have possessed in recent years. He offers them a world class attacking talent, but also brings a work rate and defensive responsibility that is rare among foreign wide players. It’s an attribute that seems to be universal among the Chilean internationals – a burning desire to earn their success through hard work and strong team values. The pace, intensity and aggressiveness of the Premier League will not be as big a challenge for the fiery Chilean, as it has been for some foreign wingers in the past. A player who hails from a poverty-stricken area of Tocopilla in Chile, who has been battle-tested and thrived in the cauldron of numerous El Clásicos and a player who his country relied on in the biggest stage of all in Brazil… I just don’t picture any scenario where Sánchez fails to produce in an Arsenal shirt.
Written by: Jamie Kemp
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Manchester City thrashed AC Milan 5-1 at the weekend. And it was primarily a second string eleven that played for much of the game. Proof, if that was needed, of the strength in depth that Man City possesses and evidence of how they can successfully defend their title this season. Right?
Given how some parts of social media entered meltdown during the game, you would think this was a key game against a European powerhouse and not simply a decent victory over an average Milan side which now trades heavily upon past reputation.
Milan had played two friendlies on home soil against lower league opposition before travelling to the US and lost their first game against Olympiacos 3-0. The manner of the defeat to Man City shouldn’t really be that surprising. This is also Pippo Inzaghi’s debut season as a first team coach, the former Italian internationalist having just two years coaching Milan’s under 19 squad on his CV thus far. Furthermore, Serie A kicks off on 31st August, 15 days after the Premier League begins so it would be normal to expect Man City to be in advance of AC Milan with their pre-season preparations.
Whilst the first part of the opening sentence is at least factually correct, the latter part is overly dramatic though not necessarily wrong, although drawing any conclusion from a pre-season game is fraught with difficulty as the above paragraph demonstrates. Still unsure what to believe? Consider if City really are that good then why did largely the same players lose 2-0 to a Dundee side that featured three trialists just two weeks earlier?
The perils of pre-season friendlies. The games that are all things to all men. Win and they are an integral part of your pre season routine. Building momentum and instilling confidence in the players. Lose and the game was all about players getting match fitness and trying new formations out. The result didn’t matter
The funny thing about pre-season games is the willingness of certain clubs to travel across the world to play a few meaningless games. The game itself is largely irrelevant. It’s not a football decision to play these games, it’s a commercial decision designed to maximise exposure and promote the club brand whilst pocketing a hefty appearance fee. The clubs are happy to travel an extensive distance, squeeze in a few games before travelling home. Sounds like a win win situation but is it really?
When do clubs begin to consider the effects of accumulative fatigue on players? In a post World Cup season when key players have spent a chunk of the close season flying around Brazil, players will feel more fatigued than normal. Physical and mental tiredness will play a role in who wins trophies this season. Do you really want players travelling around the world so early in the season in order just to earn a few extra quid? Or would you prefer players spent pre-season at home and avoided the problems of jetlag before a competitive ball has even been kicked?
And it will only be a few months before the clubs start complaining about players being tired due to fixture congestion, playing a league game just 72 hours after facing an opponent away from home in European competition. True, a competitive fixture will undoubtedly have a far greater intensity and peaking twice within a period as short as 72 hours can be extremely difficult but why compound the issue by forcing players to travel so much pre-season?
If this sounds like an attack on Man City, it’s far from it. They have gone about their business quietly and effectively during the close season. That’s what you would expect from Pellegrini though. Writers may not find great soundbites tucked away in his press conferences but what you will find are the same key qualities. The need to build, to construct a long term solution and to play aesthetically, but ultimately successful, football in the process. And City has continued the process of building under Pellegrini over the past two months.
Whilst Liverpool have focussed their attention upon buying the bulk of the Southampton first team from last season (has anyone told Brendan Rodgers that Southampton finished 8th last season?) Chelsea have been shopping in the expensive department store that is La Liga, the majority of players in European football continue to get linked to Man Utd and vast transfer fees even though Louis Van Gaal has stated that he will only buy the correct payer for the system he wants and Arsene Wenger has discovered the Arsenal credit card which appears to have a newly created credit limit too, Manchester City and Pellegrini have largely gone under the radar.
The acquisitions have all been sound. Sagna arrives to challenge Zabaleta in the right back slot but his versatility in defence will be important too. Fernando provides the much needed genuine defensive midfield presence that both Yaya Toure and Fernandinho lack. The centre of defence is strengthened with Mangala arriving. Yaya Toure is happy once again after a public strop which was really pointless. Only a handful of clubs could afford Toure so any more was always unlikely. Nasri has signed a 5 year contract after last season’s excellent form, a stark contrast to his mood under Mancini. And finally, the key signing for me is that of Willy Cabellero from Malaga who has previously worked under Pellegrini. An excellent goalkeeper and one who could displace Hart at the No1 at City.
Upon taking charge at Malaga, Pellegrini commented:-
I’m not interested in external ego but internal satisfaction. I’m not interested just in easy glory but in constructing something….together we are trying to build a project that is not just short term
Pellegrini, the engineer, has City moving towards the forthcoming season and the opportunity to build upon the foundations laid during last season’s title win.
Written by: Chalkontheboots – Winging It
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In the aftermath of Saturday’s pre-season defeat to Sydney FC, West Ham United manager Sam Allardyce suggested the pressure to introduce a new, more expansive style of football was partly responsible.
Naturally, such a drastic change is unlikely to click overnight, and few can be that surprised if a defensive setup and set of personnel more accustomed to a tighter and more deep-lying approach gets caught repeatedly on the break as soon as the protection from midfield diminishes. However the combination of new signings and another long-term injury to record signing Andy Carroll could ultimately force the club’s hand.
West Ham’s transfer policy this summer can be interpreted as a statement-making approach. While defensive midfielder Cheikhou Kouyaté can be regarded as a significant upgrade on the hugely disappointing Alou Diarra and youngster Diego Poyet is more of a long-term acquisition, the remainder of the arrivals point towards a more creative approach, particularly when coupled with Allardyce’s apparent keenness to return exiled playmaker Ravel Morrison to the fold.
Both Mauro Zárate and Enner Valencia (whose arrival depends on the securing of a work permit) top-scored in their most recent Final/Clausura campaigns in Argentina and Mexico respectively, each hitting double figures in the 2014 calendar year already. Meanwhile new left-back Aaron Cresswell demonstrated an attacking flair for Ipswich last season which could come as a shock to those fans more familiar with the likes of George McCartney and Joey O’Brien.
While Cresswell’s inclusion in the starting XI is fairly straightforward in the light of McCartney’s release, question marks had remained over whether Zárate and Valencia could both be accommodated in the same line-up. Now, with Carroll anticipated to be ruled out for four months, things should be a little easier.
In two years at Upton Park, Carroll has made just 40 appearances (39 in the league plus 45 minutes in the meaningless League Cup semi-final second leg defeat to Manchester City last January), scoring nine goals and setting up eight. While the tally looks impressive compared to the likes of Carlton Cole and Modibo Maïga, irreplaceable it is not.
Previously the absence of Carroll through what seems to be an inevitable injury break has been lamented on the basis that his presence is vital to West Ham’s style of play. Admittedly this served the club well in parts of the 2012-13 season, with captain Kevin Nolan demonstrating an at-times telepathic relationship with his former Newcastle United team-mate. However Nolan’s effectiveness has since waned and fans have begun to grow frustrated with the Liverpudlian’s lack of contribution as the goals have stopped flowing.
Allardyce’s commitment to defensive solidity last season was the principal factor behind the 4-6-0 experiment, an approach not as terrible as some have suggested when used against open, attacking opponents but at times unwatchable when utilised against sides content to sit back themselves. The goalless draw against Aston Villa last November was the game that many will look back on as symbolic of the limitations of the strikerless system.
It is games like this, not to mention a particularly frustrating run of draws in the 2011-12 promotion season, which have lent voice to those prone to criticise the West Ham manager’s ‘boring’ approach, however Allardyce has produced entertaining teams in the not too distant past. His Bolton outfit that relegated West Ham in 2002-03 had entertainers in the form of Youri Djorkaeff and Jay-Jay Okocha, while elsewhere he helped bring through exciting talents like Junior Hoilett and Martin Olsson at Blackburn. The priority may have always been developing teams that are difficult to break down, but this has rarely inhibited creativity to the extent that it did last season.
With absence from the Premier League likely to prove more costly now than ever before, thanks to the combination of increased top-flight TV money and the impending move to the Olympic Stadium in Stratford, Allardyce’s caution can be understood if not supported. However last season showed that the cluttered bottom half of the table is arguably at its weakest point in years, with limited route one football reaping fewer obvious rewards for its exponents.
Carroll’s unavailability leaves the manager at a crossroads – in one direction is the ‘safe’ option of Carlton Cole, while the other offers two new forwards eager to prove themselves in English football. If ever there was a time to expand and experiment, it is now.
Written by: Tom Victor
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Arsenal have become the latest vulture to feast upon the ailing Southampton carcass, plucking Calum Chambers from the South Coast in a deal which could rise to £18 million.
The 19-year-old will join up with the Gunners and compete with Mathieu Debuchy and Carl Jenkinson for a spot at right-back in the XI, though his versatility could play a major part in bagging him more playing time elsewhere.
Originally a central midfielder, Mauricio Pochettino took Chambers on his 2013-14 pre-season tour in Europe to assess his talents at close quarters. An injury to Nathaniel Clyne pushed him into a right-back role given the lack of cover, but he impressed so heavily he stole the Premier League opening day starting berth and convinced “Poch” he didn’t need to sign a second right-sider.
Once Clyne had recovered the two very much shared the role—Chambers totalled 18 Premier League starts, Clyne 20—as their obvious (and different) strengths were utilised superbly throughout the campaign.
Clyne, the more reputable name of the two, has garnered a reputation for searing forward at pace, dribbling at defenders and impacting the final third. Chambers, on the other hand, plays a far more measured role on the right and defends studiously when required.
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He’s the sort of full-back—well, converted full-back!—that Arsenal truly needed to replace Bacary Sagna, and when you consider the defensive dynamic Arsene Wenger used so often last season, it’s easy to easy where Chambers fits in.
As a line they were very good, but Per Mertesacker’s lack of mobility makes him a liability when exposed in space. Sagna played a defensively conscious role from the right in 2013-14, with many of his crosses coming from deep to allow him the chance to recover and help his centre-back. Kieran Gibbs, from left-back, would penetrate the box far more regularly and enjoyed more freedom.
Having a body near Mertesacker is crucial, so to see Debuchy—a byline-to-byline roamer and attacker—recruited to replace him was rather strange. He needs proximate protection if the 2013-14 system is to be used once again.
Chambers, though, is the Sagna replacement and a very promising one at that. He excels stepping inside as he backs off defenders and doesn’t take risks with the ball when working it down the touchline.
These strengths are sourced from his former position of central midfielder, making him the ideal balancing full-back in a back four. He’s fully capable of sliding across into a back three when Gibbs goes forward and protecting the pitch as an outside centre-back.
Arsene Wenger should be doing all he can to ensure Mertesacker is never the outside centre-back in a temporary three—he’s so slow he’d be a clear and obvious target for counterattacks—so Chambers’ mobility brings added value.
Going forward he is exceptionally limited, though, and if you thought Sagna’s final ball (between 2011-13) was poor, you’ll be flabbergasted at Chambers’ final-third inefficiencies.
While he often presents himself as an out-ball, his Southampton colleagues’ trust in him waned as the 2013-14 season wore on and he was used less and less to switch play. He brings it down fine, but in tight spaces and when one vs. one he does struggle on the flanks.
It led to Pochettino almost exclusively trusting Luke Shaw with the ball moving forward, with Saints’ midfield often bunching over to the right (to drag markers away) in order to create space for Shaw to hare forward and initiate attacks.
But this, of course, is workable; he’s a young man thrust into a position he’s never played and he did one hell of a job to accrue 18 starts. England U-19 manager Noel Blake has suggested Chambers has a bright future at centre-back once he settles in, and there’s every chance Wenger has paid up due to his ability to play as a rotational right-sider and a backup centre-back.
His natural position, central midfield, is also an area Arsenal need to improve, so while the £15 million fee may seem a little high in the short-term, it’s not a lot if he ends up being the guy you can plug in at any position and rely on every week.
One question does prevail, though, when it comes to his 2014-15 deployment: Will Wenger use him as a balancing full-back in the big games to help protect Mertesacker or try him against weaker opposition?
Simply put, the current version of Chambers is a 19-year-old project with stunted offensive skills and could well be useless when breaking down low-blocks. He’s also not ready to assume the mantle of protector against the very best and quickest sides, giving Wenger a serious headache in the short-term.
The worries, though, don’t extend beyond his first-year role. If he ends up costing £18 million he’ll have proved worth it, and there’s a natural (ridiculous) premium on young English talent anyway.
Written by: Sam Tighe
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