The 2016/17 Premier League Season Preview: M – W

Yesterday saw my predictions for the first 10 teams. I have forecast Guardiola to win the league in his first season but who is going to join Hull and Burnley in the drop? Find out the final doomed team in this preview of the last ten sides. So here you go, Manchester United to West Ham United. Enjoy.

Manchester United

Key Signing – Paul Pogba (Juventus)

Main Man – Wayne Rooney

Surprise Star – Timothy Fosu-Mensah

There has not been a lack of drama at Old Trafford this window. First Jose arrived. Zlatan soon followed. However, the return of Pogba has been the story of the summer and was finally completed for a world record fee. Whilst the Frenchman is fantastic player he is not worth anywhere near £89m. Another problem is where to fit him in, it looks like he will play as a holding midfielder, rather a waste of his talents. It is an exciting time for the Red Devils, although they must bid farewell to those youth products such as Rashford as long as Mourinho is at the helm.

Prediction – 2nd

Middlesbrough

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Key Signing – Marten de Roon (Atlanta)

Main Man – Stewart Downing

Surprise Star Gaston Ramirez

The Championship runners up are returning to the top flight for the first time in 7 years. They were led magnificently by a returning son in the form of Downing, who started his career at Boro. Manager Marnaka has built a solid foundation over the past 3 years and the North East club should go into the season with a positive outlook. They have signed a dependable midfielder in de Roon and if Ramirez can re-discover his 2012 Olympics form then Middlesborough can be a force in the league.

Prediction – 15th

Southampton

Key Signing – Nathan Redmond (Norwich City)

Main Man – Steven Davis

Surprise Star – Harrison Reed

Another summer. Another re-build. It’s becoming too familiar a routine for the Saints. Koeman, Mane, Wanyama and Pelle have all left. In Puel they have signed a manager with a great record at Nice having guided them into the Europa League places last season. Redmond is also a top acquisition and an underrated player who can become one of the top wingers in the league. I think it will be a similar season as last on the south coast.

Prediction – 10th

Stoke City

Key Signing  Joe Allen (Liverpool)

Main Man – Ryan Shawcross

Surprise Star – Giannelli Imbula

The revolution continues under Mark Hughes who has successfully transformed the style of the Potters. Shaqiri and Arnautović hold the key to taking Stoke to the next level. The signing of Allen provides some class and composure in midfield which will secure Stoke’s mid-table spot. Any improvement on their 9th finish last time is a fantastic result.

Prediction – 9th

Sunderland

Key Signing -Papy Djilobodji (Chelsea)

Main Man – Jermain Defoe

Surprise Star  Duncan Watmore

The Black Cats narrowly avoided relegation once again. The footballing gods have been looking down of them in recent years. This year will be another struggle, especially after losing “Big Sam” to the national team. Only time will tell whether 33 year old Defoe can carry the team. Watmore is an extremely direct and exciting young winger who will have a breakthrough season this year.

Prediction – 18th

Swansea City

Key Signing – Leroy Fer (QPR)

Main Man – Gylfi Sigurðsson

Surprise Star – Nathan Dyer

Once seen as one of the most promising young managers in the game, Garry Monk was sacked as the Swans took a turn for the worse in December last year. Guidolin came in and steadied the ship, finishing a respectable 12th. They have lost one of their star players, Andre Ayew, and their lack of reinforcement may worry fans. I can easily see them being dragged into a relegation battle but feel they’ve got enough to repeat last year’s exploits.

Prediction – 13th

Tottenham Hotspur

Key Signing – Victor Wanyama (Southampton)

Main Man – Christian Eriksen

Surprise Star  Josh Onomah

A season of near misses for Spurs, epitomised by their lack-lustre end of the season and subsequent finish behind Arsenal. However, despite a disappointing culmination to the campaign there were plenty of promises. In Alli and Kane they have the most potent, young partnership in European football. This is supported by an able cast with Pochettino strengthening well. The lilywhites have to challenge for the title otherwise the club will be moving backwards.

Prediction – 5th

Watford

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Key Signing – Juan Camilo Zuniga (Napoli)

Main Man – Troy Deeney

Surprise Star – Jerome Sinclair

The bizarre decision to sack Quique Flores after a fantastic season was followed by a questionable appointment in Walter Mazzarri who has been out of the game for 3 years. In fairness, I was unconvinced by Ranieri’s appointment last year and then look what happened. However, I am not convinced by the Pozzo family’s strategy and am worried for the Hornets. If they give Sinclair game time he will prove to be a fantastic striker although he has the formidable Deeney and Ighalo in front of him.

Prediction – 17th

West Bromwich Albion

Key Signing – Matt Phillips (QPR)

Main Man – Darren Fletcher

Surprise Star – Callum McManaman

Last season was another solid one for the Baggies, they flirted with relegation but were never really in danger. One significant worry is the lack of firepower in the team, Berahino seems to have completely gone off the rails while Rondon only scored 9 league goals last year. Phillips will provide some much-needed pace and could add that extra flair West Brom are missing. This season could be a nervy one.

Prediction – 14th

West Ham United

Key Signing  Sofiane Feghouli (Valencia)

Main Man – Dimitri Payet

Surprise Star  Reece Oxford

Billic was a revelation last year, as was his unorthodox punditry during the Euros. The Hammers have moved into the old Olympic Stadium (now London Stadium) and will look to build some history at their new home. Feghouli will provide some support for the world-class Payet whilst Ayew is a decent signing. I also expect Carroll to play a significant role in the team having performed well during pre-season. Oxford will step up this term.

Prediction – 7th

So here is my final table prediction…

1st Manchester City
2nd Manchester United
3rd Chelsea
4th Arsenal
5th Tottenham Hotspur
6th Liverpool
7th West Ham
8th Leicester City
9th Stoke City
10th Southampton
11th Everton
12th Crystal Palace
13th Swansea City
14th West Bromwich Albion
15th Middlesbrough
16th Bournemouth
17th Watford
18th Sunderland
19th Burnley
20th Hull City

So there it is. The 20 teams have been analysed, criticised and, using my crystal football, predicted. Plenty of fresh faces and rugged old ones will battle for our entertainment over the next nine months, may the best team win. Thanks for reading and enjoy the season ahead!

Feel free to comment, rate and like.

The 2016/17 Premier League Season Preview: A – M

It’s been a fantastic summer of sport, which included one of the most memorable tournaments in living history. Although Portugal lifted the Euro 2016 trophy, football was the real winner. Somehow the Premier League is just days away and with the transfer market still buzzing with speculation, it’s time for some classic predictions.  So here is my preview of the season ahead, starting with the teams from A-M.

Arsenal

Key Signing – Granit Xhaka (Borussia Mönchengladbach)

Main Man – Alexi Sanchez

Surprise Star – Alex Iwobi

The Gunners looked like they were heading for a finish below their North London rivals for the first time since 1995. However, the traditional “St Totteringham’s Day” was celebrated on the final day of the season with Spurs collapsing once again. Wenger has signed a fantastic playmaker in Xhaka although not in an area of the pitch Arsenal are lacking. Fans are desperate for a striker and even with the return of Welbeck there may still be cause for concern. Iwobi will prove a precocious talent this year.

Prediction – 4th

Bournemouth

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Key Signing – Jordan Ibe (Liverpool)

Main Man – Callum Wilson

Surprise Star – Benik Afobe

The Cherries had a fantastic first season in the top flight. In Eddie Howe they have the best young manager in English football and are lucky to hang on to him for another year. The England job will come eventually for him but there are plenty of years before that. The owner, Maxim Denim, has flexed his financial muscles this summer, securing Ibe and Cook even if for inflated prices. Second season syndrome is a worry but they should be safe.

Prediction – 16th

Burnley

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Key Signing – Jóhann Berg Guðmundsson (Charlton Athletic)

Main Man – Andre Gray

Surprise Star – Tendayi Darikwa

The Clarets have once again yo-yoed back into the big time. Sean Dyche is another fantastic young manager who Burnley did well to keep hold of. They have been worryingly quiet in the transfer window and will need significant reinforcements before the window slams shut. Andre Gray is a lethal threat up front, top-scoring in the Championship last year, and fans will hope he can reproduce this in the Premier League.

Prediction – 19th

Chelsea

Key Signing – N’Golo Kante (Leicester City)

Main Man – Eden Hazard

Surprise Star – Ruben Loftus-Cheek

The news that “The Special One” had moved to arch-rivals United has been received surprisingly well by Chelsea fans, perhaps softened by the acquisition of the world-class Conte. He is exactly what is needed to get the Blues back to their best. It will be interesting to see how the Italian lines his team up but Hazard and Costa have looked terrific in pre-season. I reckon they’re back to their best. Definite title challengers.

Prediction – 3rd

Crystal Palace

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Key Signing – Andros Townsend (Newcastle United)

Main Man – Yohan Cabaye

Surprise Star – Lee Chung-Yong

Pardiola started the season so well, but come the spring, it all started to unravel. At one point there was the real threat of being drawn into the relegation battle. However, the Eagles survived and go into the season off the back of a much-needed clear-out (17 players have left). Despite paying some outrageous fees for Townsend and Tomkins they are solid signings. A return to London might be what is required for Townsend to kick-start his career.

Prediction – 12th

Everton

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Key Signing – Idrissa Gueye (Aston Villa)

Main Man – Romelu Lukaku

Surprise Star – Shani Tarashaj

Martinez has left Goodison after a conflicted stint and been replaced by the impressive Koeman. The Dutchman made an interesting decision to leave high-flying Saints for Merseyside but he obviously sees this as a step up. Another team that has been worryingly quiet in the transfer market. The team has a young and promising spine but must hold onto their talent and hope they do not follow Stones out the door.

Prediction  11th

Hull City

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Key Signing -Will Mannion (AFC Wimbledon)

Main Man – Michael Dawson

Surprise Star – Shaun Maloney

Not the ideal preparation for the Tigers. Manager, Steve Bruce, joined the merry go-round, leaving his post in July with Mike Phelan being appointed caretaker manager. Hull have also been non-existent in the window and brought a solitary player into the club. Staying in the Premier League is tough enough let alone without a manager and any investment into the playing staff. The club is only heading one direction, back where they came from.

Prediction – 20th

Leicester City

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Key Signing – Ahmed Musa (CSKA Moscow)

Main Man – Jamie Vardy

Surprise Star – Ben Chilwell

The reigning champions. One of the most amazing stories in sport ever. Now it is time to start again and defend their title. They have recruited well, Musa will provide some support for Vardy and fits well into their system. The Nigerian’s pace and finishing will cause many defences problems. More importantly, they have managed to hold onto all their star performers apart from Kante (who has been replaced by the dependable Nampalys Mendy). Who knows how their season will go, especially with Champions League distractions.

Prediction – 8th

Liverpool

Key Signing – Sadio Mane (Southampton)

Main Man – Philippe Coutinho

Surprise Star – Divock Origi

Klopp, as expected, lit up the Premier League with his passion and enthusiasm after joining in October, even if his team’s performances did not. There are no excuses for the German this time round, with a pre-season under his belt he must have his gegenpressing drilled into his players. The Reds have been very shrewd in the transfer market with the signings of Mane, Motip and Wijnaldum. A respectable campaign lies ahead.

Prediction – 6th

Manchester City

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Key Signing – John Stones (Manchester City)

Main Man – Sergio Aguero

Surprise Star – Leroy Sane

Another summer of paying wildly inflated prices for players in Manchester. They have bought some superb players in Stones, Gundogan, Nolito and Sane, possessing the best squad in the league. However, there is still a reliance on an ageing spine. Kompany is crucial, especially in the nurturing of Stones, and must stay fit. Without the Belgian captain the Sky Blues look lost. How Guardiola is going to play all these incredible footballers I have no idea.

Prediction – 1st

So, the first half is predicted. This is how it looks so far…

1st Manchester City
2nd
3rd Chelsea
4th Arsenal
5th
6th Liverpool
7th
8th Leicester City
9th
10th
11th Everton
12th Crystal Palace
13th
14th
15th
16th Bournemouth
17th
18th
19th Burnley
20th Hull City

Disagree? Feel free to comment, rate and like.

Tune in tomorrow for the final 10 teams and see who is going to be heading down to the Championship.

Euro 2016 Predictions

So it’s finally arrived. Euro 2016 is just around the corner and so it is time for more infallible predictions.

Winners

In this new expanded format there are more teams than ever with an opportunity of glory. However, it is hard to look past the top three of hosts France, world champions Germany and reigning European champions Spain. All three have extremely impressive squads proven by those that they have left behind (Benzema, Ben Arfa (France), Reus, Bellarabi (Germany) Mata, Costa, Martinez (Spain)) all of which would easily make the England squad. There is huge strength in depth.

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Les Bleus are rightly favourites. The last time an international tournament was on French soil a Zidane-inspired team defeated Brazil to lift the World Cup. I can see similar scenes this time round. After a few disastrous tournaments the French have got rid of their demons (and blackmailers) and look ready for action. They have an array of attacking talent full of pace and power albeit with a shaky defence. A home victory is a strong possibility.

Prediction:

Winners – France

Runners-up – Spain

Dark Horses

With the inclusion of 24 teams for the first time there are far more opportunities for surprises. There are a few teams that could cause some upsets. In group A, Romania had a fantastic qualifying campaign and may challenge Switzerland for second spot. Another team who enjoyed a dominant campaign, Austria, remained undefeated for the entirety of qualifying. Only a draw in their opening game to Sweden back in September 2014 prevented them from joining England with a perfect record.

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However, one team stands out to me as having a serious possibility of reaching a quarter final and maybe further, against the odds. Poland only suffered one defeat in qualifying, to the World Champions, and even managed to defeat the Germans when they visited Warsaw. They have a clinical striker in Lewandowski supported by a cast of dependable and recognisable names such as Piszczek, Boruc and Krychowiak. Watch out for the Poles.

Prediction – Poland

Player of the Tournament

There are many players to choose from when it comes to player of the tournament. There are the classic names of Iniesta, Muller and Ronaldo. Alongside the English hopefuls of Kane and Alli. However, there is an array of French hopefuls. Pogba is, understandably, the bookies’ favourite and should be a standout performer for Les Bleus.

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I would look to the players ahead of him though, especially Payet and Griezmann. The former has had a wonderful first season in England and will make a huge impact at the tournament. It is the Atletico striker that will impress the most however; goals and assists, he can do everything.

Prediction – Antoine Griezmann

Top Scorer

There are plenty of marksmen on display this summer. Zlatan has scored 50 goals this season. Kane has been top scorer in a competitive Premier League. And Ronaldo has scored over 30 league goals for the 6th season in a row. There is a plethora of talent with their eyes on the Golden Boot.

There are also some outsiders that should not be overlooked. Nolito and/or Morata will have the backing of Spain’s illustrious midfield while Griezmann and Giroud may chip in with a few as France make it deep into the tournament.

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However, in my mind it will come down to two men: Lewandowski and Muller. The former has had a terrific season and was top scorer during qualifying. He will need his team to make it to at least the quarter finals if he is to stand a chance. Muller has a knack for being in the right place at the right time and has performed at every international tournament he has played in. The Bayern Munich men will be fighting it out.

Prediction – Thomas Muller

England’s Chances

Only the sixth team to ever have a 100% record in Euro qualifying. The Three Lions have a young squad with plenty of potential, however, potential is the word. This may be one tournament too early. In Kane they have a world-class striker and Alli one of the rising stars of the game.

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The first problem is what formation to play. The diamond seemed the way to go, but looked rigid and lethargic against Portugal. If Hodgson actually plays Kane and Vardy up front rather than on the wing, England could make a serious impact in France.

A semi-final spot would be a fantastic result for the Three Lions.

Prediction – Quarter-final

So there we go! Let the football commence.

 

 

My England Euro 2016 Squad

It’s that time again. The summer has rolled around and England will soon head to foreign shores to disappoint the whole country as part of a bi-annual national ritual. The plot has followed its usual course. It starts innocently enough, the squad is promising with youthful splashes but not enough to make any serious impact. One impressive result against a half-hearted German side and suddenly this team could make it to the semi finals. Even a poor result against Holland, a side that did not qualify for Euro 2016, could not dissuade the tide of optimism sweeping the nation. And so we find ourselves, tournament challengers (17/2 with some bookmakers), with a deluded chance of lifting the title.

Having said that…we do have a very decent and exciting, young squad that should make an impact in France. However, this relies on Roy Hodgson being bold, not a quality that is synonymous with the England manager.

Forget the squad that is going to be unveiled on Monday, this is the squad that really matters.

Goalkeepers

Joe Hart (Manchester City)

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England’s number one for that past five years. He has always been dependable between the sticks for his country. Despite some early season jitters in a team that has flattered to deceive this term, his performance in the first leg of the Champions League semi-final against Real Madrid exemplified his world class capabilities. Consistent.

Fraser Forster (Southampton)

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After years of struggling with the position, England currently have a plethora of talent in goal exemplified by the Saints’ man. Forster came back from a long-term injury and performed brilliantly for the final few months of the season. He should feel like he has a real chance of unseating Hart in the starting eleven. Able Deputy.

Tom Heaton (Burnley)

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Should be given his chance after Butland fractured his ankle whilst playing in the victory against Germany in March. The Clarets have enjoyed a fantastic season with Heaton providing fantastic consistency for the Championship winners. He is the joint-leader in clean sheets and deserves his seat on the plane. Spectator.

Defenders

Danny Rose (Tottenham Hostpur)

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The fantastic season Spurs have enjoyed was in no small part down to their mean defence. Whilst Rose can be culpable at times for abandoning his position, he has performed admirably and benefits from a lack of strength in the wingback positions. I am not sure I fancy his chances against Gareth Bale. Solid.

Aaron Cresswell (West Ham United)

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The unsung hero of West Ham’s campaign. I can’t comprehend how he is not in anyone’s thinking. He can actually defend unlike many of his competitors and also possesses a fantastic dead ball delivery which the team is severely lacking. If he had a few caps under his belt he would be in my starting line-up. Underrated.

Nathaniel Clyne (Liverpool)

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The 25 year-old has been a mainstay under Klopp and repaid the faith of his new manager. Clyne has great pace which makes up for some of his other deficiencies and he is in charge of the right back shirt for now. This is an area of serious concern for the England manager. Predictable.

Kyle Walker (Tottenham Hotspur)

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Another Spurs fullback who relies on his pace to get him out of trouble. He is yet to learn positional sense and finds himself in dangerous territory too often for my liking. Against  top opposition I fear this lack of football intelligence will be too easily demonstrated. Liability.

Chris Smalling (Manchester United)

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The United defender has come on leaps and bounds this past year and is one of few successes under Van Gaal’s tenure. He is the only reliable defender in the squad and is integral for Hodgson’s defence. Hopefully he can take on a leadership role and command the defence like Terry, Ferdinand and Adams have done before him. Integral.

Gary Cahill (Chelsea)

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His team have had a terrible season and the former Bolton man has not fared much better. Zouma overtook him in the pecking order and only an injury to the talented Frenchman has allowed Cahill back into the starting eleven. He is yet another English defender that is consistent but not special and always has a mistake in him. However, he has played in a Champions League final and has collected a wealth of experience over the years. Lucky.

John Stones (Everton)

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The hopes of a nation rested on this young man’s shoulders at the beginning of the year and it appears to have crushed him. The fortunes of the Toffees has not helped the youngster but he has become a shadow of the player he was in August. The hypocrisy of British punditry does frustrate me somewhat though. One minute he is praised for playing out of the back, the next he is lambasted for not hitting row Z. Give the boy some time. I would start him alongside Smalling. Potential.

Phil Jagielka (Everton)

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Yet another England defender that has not had his finest season. Experience plays to his side but does not inspire too much faith when it comes to facing world-class opposition. He will only play if worst comes to worst and two central defenders get injured. This will be his last tournament. Veteran.

Midfielders

Eric Dier (Tottenham Hotspur)

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Transformed from a no nonsense central defender into a cultured holding midfielder. A year is a long time in football. For all the praise directed at another Spurs midfielder, Dier has been my revelation of the season. Pochettino has had a tremendous impact on the 22 year-old. Whilst he has not faced world-class opposition yet, he looks the real deal; his time in defence has givien him an awareness others do not enjoy. His versatility is crucial. Adaptable.

James Milner (Liverpool)

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The forgotten man of English football. Milner has transitioned comfortably to life on Merseyside and been given a chance in his favoured central berth. He may not pull up trees on a regular basis but his work rate and crossing ability should not be underrated. He is tied with David Silva and PFA Player of the Year Mahrez on an impressive 11 assists. Committed.

Jordan Henderson (Liverpool)

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Another Red who does not inspire great excitement in the belly. He has had a steady first season as captain of the club and is improving at a gradual rate. As he returns from injury he faces stiff competition for one of the holding roles in midfield. He has shown surprising leadership this year which may play in his favour. A Hodgson favourite. Uninspiring.

Danny Drinkwater (Leicester City)

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Another remarkable rise. The Manchester United reject has flourished under Ranieri and become an all-round midfielder. Despite being outshone by the outstanding Kante alongside him, Drinkwater deserves a place in the squad and can provide capable back up for those ahead of him. Deserving.

Dele Alli (Tottenham Hotspur)

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The PFA Young Player of the Year has had a tremendous season (one of my rare correct predictions) and will start in the coveted number 10 position. He will be tasked with providing the spark that has too often been lacking in England sides over the past decade. Let’s hope he has a similar impact to a former teen sensation back in 2004. Outstanding.

Ross Barkley (Everton)

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This year has seen him overtaken by Alli as the young hope of English football. He started the season in impressive form but has tailed off drastically along with that of Everton’s. The 22 year-old is still young and has plenty of time to progress but many thought he would be a mainstay of the team by now. Sadly he has not kicked on, yet there is still plenty to expect from this young man. Promising.

Adam Lallana (Liverpool)

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Another that seen his career revived this season. After a disappointing first year in Liverpool he has turned into one of Klopp’s main men. What the former Southampton man lacks in pace he more than makes up for in trickery. He will have a pivotal role to play on one of the wings and I hope Hodgson gives him his chance. Creative.

Raheem Sterling (Manchester City)

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The £49 million man has had an horrendous season. Unsurprisingly he has found himself behind De Bruyne and Silva with even the impotent Navas overtaking the Englishman. Sterling did show glimpses of his past form in the Champions League but too often than not he has been found wanting. The lack of competition out wide has saved him and hopefully he can provide an impact off the bench. Lucky.

Strikers

Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur)

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The first name in the squad. Despite many, including myself, doubting he could reproduce the form of 14/15, especially after his slow start, he has evolved into the deadliest striker in the league. His world-class finishing prowess was illustrated in the 3-2 win against Germany and he will strike fear into all opposition defences. World-class.

Jamie Vardy (Leicester City)

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The story of the former non-league star is almost as remarkable as that of his team’s. Vardy had an average season last year but was transformed into a goal machine this time round. His movement and electric pace has made him an essential cog of the Leicester juggernaut that has steamrollered the Premier League this year. At 29 it must be asked, where has he been all this time? Speedster.

Daniel Sturridge (Liverpool)

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The most natural finisher in the Premier League. Despite being riddled with injuries he must be on the plane. He has come back into the Liverpool side and proved as efficient as ever, managing to score 12 goals in 23 sporadic matches. If England need a goal with 10 minutes to play, there is no one better to chuck on than the Brummie. Clinical.

Wayne Rooney (Manchester United)

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He makes my squad…just. If it was any other player then he does not make the plane, but the captain’s experience will be vital in such a young squad. The argument that he should play because he is England’s all time top scorer is nonsensical, I don’t hear any clamours for record cap holder Peter Shilton to return in goal. If he starts against Russia on 11th June then English football has taken a huge step back. Captain.

Starting Eleven

Hart

Clyne     Stones     Smalling     Rose

Dier    Milner

Lallana      Alli        Vardy

Kane

So there it is. My 23. What do you think? Feel free to comment, rate and like!

Can Leicester Finish The Job?

Stockings raided, hunger satiated and monopoly flung. The season to be merry is over, so it’s time to get back to the serious matters of Premier League football. This season has been a roller coaster ride with unpredictable results around every corner (emphasis on unpredictable). No one could have foreseen the table in its current guise and it has been a more exciting season for it (emphasis on no one could have). One must forgive those who tipped Chelsea for the title and for Leicester to struggle (emphasis on must forgive) but now the lay of the land is clearer, there is an opportunity for me to make myself even more of a fool and produce some mid-season predictions. So here goes!

Champions

Leicester City have been on one hell of a run. Claudio Ranieri has built on the platform Pearson provided and assembled a magnificent team. They fear no one and rightly so, rather than nicking wins, they are masterfully constructing them and deserve to be on top for Christmas.

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The chasing pack were meant to have devoured the Foxes by now. However, they have not managed to catch up and are still looking enviously up at them. Arsenal are the front runners and appear to have found their rhythm of late, especially after their impressive win over title rivals City. Ozil has had a great ‘effect’ on the Gunners’ fortunes, linking well with his talented teammates and they look strong heading into the new year, despite their recent thrashing at the hands of Southampton.

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Man City, having started the season so strongly, have withered away in recent weeks. Crucial injuries to the spine of the team have crippled the Sky Blues and the full return of Kompany and Aguero cannot come soon enough. If they manage to overcome their injury problems, City will have a strong chance of claiming their 3rd title in 5 years.

Prediction: Man City

Champions League

Sadly I cannot see Leicester winning the title but a top four finish is realistic and should be the aim for the Foxes from now. This hinges significantly on the retention of key players, with the obvious names of Vardy and Mahrez (a surprise star for 13/14 according to a well-known enthusiast) in mind. I am going to be bold, the only way I know, and predict Leicester to finish the job and secure a top 10 finish. Champions League football will be a lovely bonus.

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A host of unfamiliar names are in the mix for the elusive Champions League places. Watford and Crystal Palace find themselves just a few points off eternal glory and a ticket to the European elite. However, let’s be honest, they are not going to be there come May.

Spurs have also found themselves in the lofty heights of Champions League qualification. Kane has rediscovered his form and in Alli, Erikson and Dier they have a fantastic, young core. This could be the year the Lilywhites return to Europe’s top competition for the first time since 2011.

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However, I see Man United undeservedly and inevitably sneaking into the top four come the end of the season. Once LVG allows his array of attacking talent to actually attack, they should find a bit of form and trundle towards the Champions League.

Prediction: Arsenal, Leicester City, Manchester United

Relegated Teams

Now to the more depressing end of the table and those facing the deadly drop towards the Championship. Aston Villa have looked positively dreadful from start to finish. Even the Messiah himself, Tim Sherwood, could not improve the Villains and has left Garde with a random ensemble of mercenaries to save the Midlands club. Only a miraculous turnaround can alter their fate now.

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Sunderland have looked equally as poor at times. However, the arrival of Sam Allardyce gives the Black Cats hope and rightly so. ‘Big Sam’ has a proven track record and has already shored up their defence despite the heavy loss to Man City on Boxing Day. They should survive.

The final relegation places can be occupied by two of five teams. Whilst Newcastle currently lay in 18th place I believe the Magpies will be safe by the end of the season. Whilst Chelsea are also currently in danger, Hiddink will right the ship and sail them into the top 6 by the end of the season.

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Sadly for Canaries’ fans, I can see Norwich being dragged into the danger zone. Despite a fantastic win at Old Trafford, Alex Neil’s team have looked out of place for much of the season and lack a serious goal threat up front.

The final relegation place is reserved for the only Welsh club in the Premier League. The sacking of Monk may prove Swansea’s downfall with no suitable replacements currently on the market. Caretaker manager Curtis will provide a steady hand but a new manager is needed urgently.

Prediction: Aston Villa, Norwich City, Swansea City

So there are my predictions. City to lift the trophy at the end of the season and only one promoted team to return whence they came. What do you reckon? Leicester to stay the course until May or are Chelsea going to find themselves competing for the Championship next year? Feel free to rate, comment and like. Happy New Year!

How To Solve A Problem Like Mourinho?

What is going on down in SW6? The Champions are enjoying (or not) their worst start to a campaign since 1986. Mourinho admitted it is the first time in his career he has found himself looking up rather than down. So why are the Blues floundering so terribly? Well I’ll tell you.

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1. Personnel

When the 2015 PFA awards rolled round six of Mourinho’s men were in the Team of the Year. Eden Hazard picked up the Player of the Season and all was well on Fulham Road.

Last season Terry rekindled the form that won him the same award his Belgian colleague picked up, way back in 04/05. He also played the full 38 league games for the first time in his career. This was made possible by the back up he received from his fellow defenders Ivanovic, Cahill and Azipilicueta.

Matic patrolled effectively in front of them and Fabregas pulled the creative strings. Costa made a breath-taking start to English football, scoring with ease. Hazard was electrifying and backed up by a support team of Willian, Oscar and Ramires.

However, this season a number of high-profile players have wilted and withered under the spotlight of Premier League success. This may be one season too many for some. Terry, pushing 35, is on borrowed time and Ivanovic has had an horrendous start to this campaign. The Serbian has been beaten by every winger he has come up against since Montero turned him inside out on the opening day.

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When it comes to the midfield the signs have been there for quite some time. Fabregas in particular has not played well for the best part of 10 months. The playmaker scored only three goals last year and after an excellent beginning to his return to London waned drastically towards the summer.

The most drastic contrast has been Hazard’s. He has provided no threat whatsoever. Last campaign the little magician was the catalyst for the rest of the team, drawing the attention of opponents and allowing those less talented to utilise the space neglected. Costa, who enjoyed the Player of the Year’s service last year, has been starved so far this term and has been feeding on scraps. He still looks as hungry as ever and should rediscover his form.

2. Transfer Policy

Two summers ago Mourinho made two fantastic additions: Fabregas and Costa. They provided the firepower and creativity to kickstart the campaign. However, this year has been a disaster. As City can testify to, winning back-to-back titles is tough and hinges on the recruitment undertaken during the hazy summer months. Without bringing in top quality signings the squad can rest on their laurels and become stagnant.

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The Portuguese maverick left it late this year before finally bringing in Pedro. Despite the winger being an excellent signing, unlike like 2013, the Blues’ transfer business was not completed before a ball was kicked, allowing little time for preparation.

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It is not just the lack of incoming transfers that should concern Chelsea fans but also those players that are being allowed to leave West London. De Bruyne was and is a huge talent that Manchester City have just broken their transfer record for. Schurrle, Hazard (Thorgan), Lukaku, Bruma and Mata to name just a few other departed players. Whilst many are also wasting away out on loan such as Salah, Cuadrado and Moses. Some of these players would easily strengthen the squad but have been sidelined by Mourinho. Not a good transfer policy.

3. Youth

Chelsea has produced some of the best youth teams in recent memory, winning the FA Youth Cup 4 times in the last 6 years. However, no academy prospects have managed to break through into the first team since John Terry over a decade ago. This is not due to a lack of talent however, rather a lack of opportunity.

Our culture has become one of immediate gratification and demand with football being the epitome of this. Chelsea has been the frontrunner of this shift in the search for instantaneous success. Abramovich (like many owners in fairness) has not allowed any room for the development of young talent.

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Mourinho, has at his fingertips, a golden generation. Yet, despite the obvious talent in front of him, he has not decided to integrate many of the cup winning teams. Loftus-Cheek has rightly been given his chance briefly but most of have been sent out on loan. Brown, Piazon, Baker, Solanke and Bamford have all been dispatched (mainly to Vitesse) and are almost definitely not going to be given their chance upon their return.

This has been a huge blight on Chelsea who should be chastised for stockpiling such great (British) talent. This enormous problem for the Blues has also forced them to pay over the odds for average, foreign players.

The Solution

In the immediate future, Mourinho has to make some big decisions. Drop Ivanovic, Hazard and Fabregas. Put the new signing from Germany, Rahman into left back and switch Azpilicueta to the right flank. Loftus-Cheek must be thrown into central midfield whilst Kennedy should be given an opportunity alongside Pedro and Willian.

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For the longer term there must be an emphasis on giving youth chances to play. The golden generation of young players can really help freshen up an ageing squad. The use of the “kids” and a more effective transfer policy should see the Blues return to the top.

They face a tough test tonight in the Champions League and Mourinho must use this opportunity to wake a few players up. This team is in need of a spring clean.

Thanks for reading, feel free to like, rate and comment!

The 2015/16 Premier League Season Preview: N – W

Yesterday saw my predictions for the first 10 teams. I have forecast Chelsea to win the league again but who is going to go down? Find out the three doomed teams in this preview of the last ten sides. So here you go, Newcastle United to West Ham United. Enjoy.

Newcastle United

Key Signing – Aleksandar Mitrović (Anderlecht)

Main Man – Moussa Sissoko

Surprise Star – Jamaal Lascelles

It all started so well for the Magpies. Then Pardew went “back to where he came from”, heeding the advice of a significant selection of Geordies, and it all went a bit pear-shaped. Those who called for the Cockney’s departure soon lived to regret their wish. Coach Carver was hapless and Newcastle fell drastically down the table, scrabbling frantically for points and only just managing to survive for another year. The future is bright with the superb recruitment of McClaren whilst new signing Mitrović has the ability to score 15 plus goals. A steadier season ahead.

Prediction – 12th

Norwich City

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Key Signing – Robbie Brady (Hull City)

Main Man – Bradley Johnson

Surprise Star – Jamar Loza

First things first, what is going on with their kits? Whilst the third kit has to be the hipster’s choice, all three they are green, nullifying the purpose of multiple kits…anyway, back to the football. The Canaries’ convincing win over Middlesbrough in the playoff final is less than three months ago and it is time for them to reap their rewards. The bulk of the squad remains for their relegation two years ago which is both positive and negative. They possess experience but were not good enough to stay up, a tough season ahead.

Prediction – 19th

Southampton

Key Signing – Jordy Clasie (Feyenoord)

Main Man – Sadio Mané

Surprise Star Harrison Reed

Koeman defied the predictions of many (not all) that the Saints would struggle last season. Once again they have lost two major performers, Clyne and Schneiderlin, but also replaced well with Soares and Clasie. They possess the most prolific academy in the country and have yet more prospects coming through. Ward-Prowse will kick on from last year, as will Reed, who showed glimpses of his capabilities in the season’s end. The Saints have looked great in preseason and Europa League qualifying; this should be a repeat of last season.

Prediction – 7th

Stoke City

Key Signing  Joselu (Hannover 96)

Main Man – Ryan Shawcross

Surprise Star – Marco Van Ginkel

Mark Hughes is transforming Staffordshire into a multi-cultural, eclectic centre of excellence. The additions of Afellay, Joselu and Molina provide even more exotic spice to the Potters’ playing contingent. Afellay, in particular, has a lot to prove after a disappointing period with Barcelona. Johnson signing from Liverpool on a free is also a great capture. These are exciting times for Stoke City, Hughes is doing a fantastic job and should continue to do so this year.

Prediction – 8th

Sunderland

Key Signing – Jeremain Lens (Dynamo Kyiv)

Main Man – Jermain Defoe

Surprise Star  Will Buckley

A new year, a new manager. Deja vu does not do the situation on Wearside justice. Advocat came in to rescue Sunderland from relegation and after consulting with his wife decided to stay for another year. I do not hold out much hope for the Black Cats and feel it is only a matter of time before they make the inevitable plunge. Defoe returned from exile in Canada and scored four vital goals, but at 32 he is well past his best and may not have enough to carry the team. The Championship is closing in on Wearside.

Prediction – 18th

Swansea City

Key Signing – Andre Ayew (Marseille)

Main Man – Gylfi Sigurðsson

Surprise Star – Matt Grimes

Monk performed miracles finishing an astonishing 8th in the league. The loss of top striker Bony to Man City was dampened by the work of Gomis. Having scored only one goal in the league in 2014 he smashed six goals after Bony’s departure. The arrival of Ayew and Eder should lighten his burden and add some real quality to the Swans. If Sigurðsson can reproduce his form of recent years then Swansea will be an exciting, attacking team. Consolidation is the name of the game and an 8th place finish would be another incredible result.

Prediction – 11th

Tottenham Hotspur

Key Signing – Toby Alderweireld (Atletico Madrid)

Main Man – Christian Eriksen

Surprise Star  Dele Alli

The first season under Pochettino went as well as could be expected. A 5th place finish is notable but the promised land of the Champions League seems far away yet. Movement in the transfer market has not been inspiring despite three solid defenders arriving at White Hart Lane. This should provide a great foundation on which to build but underpins their reliance on Kane to score the goals. I am not convinced he will be able to repeat his incredible goal tally again. Alli has looked unbelievable in preseason and is destined for great things.

Prediction – 6th

Watford

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Key Signing -Matěj Vydra (Udinese)

Main Man – Troy Deeney

Surprise Star – Jose Holebas

The Hornets came up just one point off Bournemouth and are looking forward to their first season back in the Premier League since 2007. This ended in misery, rock bottom and with only five wins. Since then the Pozzo family has taken over the club and implemented countless managerial changes. Last year Watford had three managers and have already lost the man who took them up, Slaviša Jokanović, who has been replaced by Quique Flores. The Hornets are an unknown but have invested wisely this summer.

Prediction – 20th

West Bromwich Albion

Key Signing – Rickie Lambert (Liverpool)

Main Man – Chris Brunt

Surprise Star – Callum McManaman

Tony Pulis to the rescue. Once again the Welshman proved he has the magic to save teams from plummeting towards the second division. He knows how to right a ship and secure the basics. However, spending £3m on a 33-year-old striker who scored 3 goals in 36 appearances for Liverpool (albeit predominately from the bench) seems naive. I would be foolish though, to dismiss the wisdom of Pulis and I have faith that he will steer the Baggies towards mid table.

Prediction – 15th

West Ham United

Key Signing  Dimitri Payet (Marseille)

Main Man – Andy Carroll

Surprise Star  Reece Burke

Finally after months and years of hounding, the Upton Park faithful have had their wish granted, Big Sam has waved, a not so fond, goodbye. Billic has taken his place and will bring a vivacity and enthusiasm lacking in the Premier League at the moment. The loss of Valencia to injury only highlights the importance of Carroll’s fitness, although Sakho has proved a decent replacement up front. Mid table mediocrity awaits.

Prediction – 13th

So here is my final table prediction…

1st Chelsea
2nd Arsenal
3rd Manchester City
4th Manchester United
5th Liverpool
6th Tottenham Hotspur
7th Southampton
8th Stoke City
9th Everton
10th Crystal Palace
11th Swansea City
12th Newcastle United
13th West Ham United
14th Aston Villa
15th West Bromwich Albion
16th Bournemouth
17th Leicester City
18th Sunderland
19th Norwich City
20th Watford

So there it is. The 20 teams have been analysed, criticised and, using my crystal football, predicted. Plenty of fresh faces and rugged old ones will battle for our entertainment over the next nine months, may the best team win. Thanks for reading and enjoy the season ahead!

Feel free to comment, rate and like.

The 2015/16 Premier League Season Preview: A – M

It has been a barren summer, no tournament football has forced us to trawl the rumour mill, tinker endlessly with our fantasy football teams and even resort to watching some of the MLS. Things have got bad, but fortunately in a matter of days ‘proper’ football will return to our screens and our hearts. Another exciting nine months of Premier League football is nearly upon us. So here is my preview of the season ahead, starting with the teams from A-M.

Arsenal

Key Signing – Petr Cech (Chelsea)

Main Man – Alexi Sanchez

Surprise Star – Gedion Zelalem

A consecutive FA Cup win has kept the doubters at bay but Gunners want to see progression. Arsene Wenger’s 20th season in charge is looking bright though, the acquisition of Cech continues a recent tradition of shrewd and influential summer purchases in North London. Sanchez proved a great success last year and Ozil has rediscovered some form, Cech plugs a vital gap that could push them over the line. All that is required is a prolific, tenacious striker. Benzema appeared to be that final piece of the jigsaw but Benitez has quashed that move. Nonetheless, this is an exciting time for Arsenal.

Prediction – 2nd

Aston Villa

Key Signing – Rudy Gestede (Blackburn Rovers)

Main Man – Ashley Westwood

Surprise Star – Callum Robinson

Saviour Sherwood humbly took the praise he deserved after rescuing the Villains from the black hole of the Championship. This close escape occurred despite the amazing start they enjoyed at the beginning of the campaign, sitting pretty in the top four until the end of September. However, their downfall was swift and Villa fans will not want such a rollercoaster ride again. Bakuna, Sinclair and Grealish stepped up to resurrect the season but the losses of Delph and Benteke are huge. Another struggle on the cards.

Prediction – 14th

Bournemouth

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Key Signing – Max Gradel (Saint-Etienne)

Main Man – Callum Wilson

Surprise Star – Christian Atsu

What a journey. The Cherries’ remarkable story embarks on a new chapter this year with their first venture into the top flight. Just seven years ago Bournemouth were in the bottom rung of the Football League. Now they are entering the top tier under the stewardship of the impressive Eddie Howe, still only 37 years old. The Championship winners have spent big money on the promising Mings and proven Gradel whilst astutely adding the likes of Boruc and Distin on frees. Chelsea wunderkind Atsu will have a significant impact and implies Howe intends to continue with the free-flowing football they played last year. There is hope for the Cherries.

Prediction – 16th

Chelsea

Key Signing – Falcao (AS Monaco)

Main Man – Eden Hazard

Surprise Star – Ruben Loftus-Cheek

Mourinho delivered on his promise for his pony to transform into a thoroughbred. The Champions cantered to the title but will face a much tougher test this time round. The Special One has been surprisingly quiet in the transfer window, although they look strong in every area; their competitors have all strengthened well. The additions of a tricky winger and defensive midfield cover would have been ideal but there is still time for the Blues. Pedro seemed a perfect fit but he looks set to join the Red Devils. Chelsea will not regain their title with last year’s ease; they will have a fight on their hands.

Prediction – 1st

Crystal Palace

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Key Signing – Yohan Cabaye (Paris Saint-Germain)

Main Man – Yannick Bolasie

Surprise Star – Patrick Bamford

Last year began with the shock departure of Pulis. Warnock’s bizarre appointment resulted in a freefall down the table until Pardew returned to his previous stomping ground and secured top flight football for another year. The acquisition of Cabaye is a coup for the club whilst Bamford finally has the opportunity to prove he can cut it in the Premier League. The Eagles will look to build on their strong finish to the season and I am confident they will do so. This should be a comfortable mid table finish for Palace, maybe even more than that.

Prediction – 10th

Everton

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Key Signing – Gerard Deulofeu (FC Barcelona)

Main Man – Kevin Mirallis

Surprise Star – Tom Cleverley

The Toffees were hit with a serious, almost fatal bout of second season syndrome in Martinez’s second year at the helm. With the taste of relegation still lingering on the tongue, Chairman Bill Kenwright will hope his team bounce back with vigour. The return of Deulofeu is exciting and Cleverley will hope to make an impact on an ageing midfield. Retaining Stones is crucial for both the club and the player’s development; a move to Chelsea would harm his progress. A steady season awaits on Merseyside.

Prediction  9th

Leicester City

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Key Signing – Christian Fuchs (Schalke 04)

Main Man – Leonardo Ulloa

Surprise Star – Andrej Kramarić

Their miraculous survival captured the imagination of all, as did Nigel Pearson’s off/side field antics. From the ostrich jibe to the expletive-ridden rant at a fan, he provided quite the entertainment. In the ultimate twist, despite his sterling work, he has found himself out of work. His replacement, Claudio “tinkerman” Ranieri, has caused quite a stir and is a peculiar choice to take the Foxes forward. Stability is not something that has come to be associated with the loveable Italian and I am not confident in the longevity of this relationship. In Kramarić, Ranieri has a very talented striker who, given his chance, could make a huge impact on the league. This is going to be interesting.

Prediction – 17th

Liverpool

Key Signing – Christian Benteke (Aston Villa)

Main Man – Daniel Sturridge

Surprise Star – Jordan Rossiter

It was not just the blue side of Merseyside that had a dismal campaign last term, the Reds went from title challengers to mid table scrappers before returning to their seat in the top 6. Rodgers has reinforced well the summer, Benteke will plug the gap caused by an injury-prone Sturridge, whilst Milner, Firmino and Clyne add some speed and class to the side. Hopefully the manager will give Milner an opportunity in the centre of the park, his best position, and the Yorkshire lad can banish the wasted years at City. There is a lot of promise in this young Liverpool side.

Prediction – 5th

Manchester City

Key Signing – Raheem Sterling (Liverpool)

Main Man – Sergio Aguero

Surprise Star – Marcos Lopes

Once again a lack of investment cost the Sky Blues consecutive Premier League titles. They looked unconvincing throughout and Pellegrini is on borrowed time, the shadow of Guardiola looming menacingly over the Chilean. The capture of Sterling was the worst kept secret in football and after a protracted negotiation the English winger finally made the short trip up the M62. Delph’s move was a much better secret, possibly even to the player himself, with the midfielder quickly going back on his word to stay at Villa. Another season of failure may cost Pellegrini his job this time next year.

Prediction – 3rd

Manchester United

Key Signing – Memphis Depay (PSV Eindhoven)

Main Man – Wayne Rooney

Surprise Star – Andreas Pereira

Van Gaal did not have the debut season he would have liked. The mercurial Dutchman restored United to Champions League football but was well off the pace. A main reason for this was the poor allocations of funds in the transfer market. None of the incoming purchases made a significant impact with serious money wasted on Di Maria (now sold for a £16m loss) and Rojo. Shaw, Herrera and Blind will settle this year but once again the Red Devils have not spent wisely. Whilst Depay looks a superb signing, Schweinsteiger and Schneiderlin appear unnecessary. Only time will tell.

Prediction – 4th

So, the first half is predicted. This is how it looks so far…

1st Chelsea
2nd Arsenal
3rd Manchester City
4th Manchester United
5th Liverpool
6th
7th
8th
9th Everton
10th Crystal Palace
11th
12th
13th
14th Aston Villa
15th
16th Bournemouth
17th Leicester City
18th
19th
20th

Disagree? Feel free to comment, rate and like.

Tune in tomorrow for the final 10 teams and see who is going to be heading down to the Championship.

Women’s 2015 World Cup Semi Final Preview: England vs Japan

Tonight marks an historic night in the female English game. The Lionesses have made it past the last 16 stage of a World Cup for the first time, managing to go even further and into their maiden semi-final. Only the reigning champions, Japan, stand in their way of becoming only the second England team to reach a World Cup final. Can they make it all the way and join USA in Vancouver? Here’s a preview of the Lionesses semi final match.

England

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Nickname: The Lionesses

Manager: Mark Sampson

Captain: Steph Houghton

Stage Opponent Score
Group France 0-1
Group Mexico 2-1
Group Colombia 2-1
Last 16 Norway 2-1
Quarter Final Canada 2-1

England started off with a disappointing loss to France and caused the standard national deflation. A lack of commitment, desire to play for the shirt and tournament mentality meant another dismal campaign was looming. However, two stoic performances against Mexico and Colombia allowed the Lionesses to progress into the knockout stages. Norway and a piece of history awaited in the last 16 with a Lucy Bronze screamer sealing progression. The home nation provided a sterner test although England grabbed two early goals to combat the tribal crowd support. Although Canada enjoyed 63% possession and stole a goal, England were not too troubled and soaked up the pressure to secure their place in the final four.

Norway v England: Round of 16 - FIFA Women's World Cup 2015

Tactics have been a hot topic of discussion during the tournament. Sampson is the Claudio Ranieri of women’s football, tinkering with his team religiously. The starting line-up has changed for every game, either showing a tactical appreciation or level of uncertainty. Although Sampson has been praised for his decisions so far, I have been underwhelmed.

The defensive and negative style he has employed so far, can work for a certain amount of time but cannot win a tournament. They will be tested by Japan and cannot sit on the backfoot waiting for a chance. They must impose themselves on the game. Duggan and Aluko have been underused and wasted, their explosiveness off the bench could have really opened up the pitch more.

Karen Bardsley, Steph Houghton

Equally, Karen Bardsley’s position as number 1 must be questioned. Two blunders caused two goals against Norway and Canada. In Telford and Chamberlain there are two able deputies who may feel aggrieved with their lack of opportunities. The decision may be taken out of Sampson’s hands though after Bardsley suffered a mysterious allergic reaction against Canada. It is unclear whether she will start tonight, only time will tell.

Star Performer: Lucy Bronze

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Although only 23 years old, the Manchester City defender has scored two vital goals in the knockout stages to steer England through. She has defended superbly, showing composure and athleticism which will be needed against Japan. The World Champions use quick passing and wing play to sithe through defences. Bronze will have to be on top form to keep the likes of Sugasawa and Ogimi at bay.

Japan

Nickname: Nadeshiko (Large Pink Flower)

Manager: Norio Sasaki

Captain: Aya Miyama

Stage Opponent Score
Group Switzerland 1-0
Group Cameroon 2-1
Group Ecuador 1-0
Last 16 Holland 2-1
Quarter Final Australia 1-0

The defending champions are undefeated in the tournament so far. They topped Group C, only conceding one goal and performing consistently. Switzerland and Cameroon provided a weak test with early goals seeing Japan through. A goal in the 5th minute against Ecuador appeared to signal a thrashing was on the cards. The South Americans had been beaten 6-0 by Cameroon and 10-1 by Switzerland previously. However, the Japanese could not add to their tally which may provide encouragement for the Lionesses.

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Holland were dispatched with relative ease although it took 87 minutes for Japan to break down a weak Australia after dominating throughout. They will need to step up if they are going to progress any further. The England team have much more talent than their Southern hemisphere colleagues.

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Although they struggled to get the ball in the back of the net against Australia they played some magnificent football. As their nickname suggests (an elegant pink flower), the free-flowing tika-taka football has at times been mesmerising. Their finishing though, has left a lot to be desired. They will need to take any chance they get against the Lionesses, the England set up designed to concede few and soak up pressure. Japan do possess players with a creative edge that England lack. The Japanese team is full of playmakers such as Ohno and Sakaguchi who can tear defences to shreds. This will be a test of flair versus determination.

Star Performer: Aya Miyama

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The captain of the side is second on Japan’s all-time appearances list with a staggering 151 caps at the age of just 30. The Okayama Yungo Belle winger is also 5th on the all-time goalscorers list, exemplifying her attacking talent. She has scored one and assisted two so far in Canada and will look to add to that tally. Miyama has provided a serious threat in the tournament and will attempt to utilise her vast experience against the young Bronze. She is definitely one to watch out for.

Overall, this is going to be a fantastic encounter. Japan have to be the favourites, their talent and history demand that, but England have a great chance. Anything can happen in football and this match will be no different. My heart is telling me one thing, my brain another. So here’s my prediction:

England 1 : 2 Japan

Is Kane Able?

Harry Kane: England saviour or irrelevant imposter?

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The Chingford-born striker has only been playing regular first-team football since November. Up to that point the 21 year old had scored a meagre 22 goals in 91 appearances for various clubs in the lower leagues. The footballing genius that is Tim Sherwood gave Kane his chance last season and, according to the pedagogue himself, launched the young striker’s career.

The Spurs striker has certainly torn up the Premier League since his introduction. He now stands shoulder to shoulder with Diego Costa as the league’s top scorer with an impressive 19 goals above the likes of Aguero, Giroud and…let me clear throat… Austin, Berahino and Ings. We shall return to such comparisons shortly. Let me first focus on the man himself.

Harry Kane has played for four different clubs on loan, from League One to the Premier League. He did not really stand out and it appeared yet another promising English starlet was slowly fading into the lower leagues to forever curse their wasted potential. But something changed. Kane came flying out the traps in a way few, if any, predicted. 29 goals and some neanderthal hollerings from pundits and fans alike later, Roy has called the young man up to the England squad. Is he the real deal though? That is the question many have been asking.

England v Iraq: Group E - FIFA U-20 World Cup Turkey 2013

Unlike the mundane ramblings of Shearer and Neville (Phil that is) I will actually analyse this question. There will be no fence-sitting here, no hemming and hawing, no umming and ahhing. Is Harry Kane an England striker?

Well, this is very difficult question with no singular answer, we must look at many different angles, taking into account multiple variables and not committing too quickly to a concrete response, this is a liquid, reactive and free-flowing process.

The facts are convincing: 29 goals in 43 appearances and leading scorer in the Premier League. Hodgson had to call up the 6ft 2in striker and the rangy poacher thoroughly deserves it. I have my doubts though.

Much has been made of the hattrick at the weekend against Leicester in lead up to the game against Lithuania. This exemplifies the incredible form Kane is in surely? It does, no doubt about it. Let’s dig a little deeper though. A tap-in, an horrendous deflection and a penalty. The old football cliche “a goal’s a goal” rings true but can this be translated into an international striker. I’ve been largely unimpressed by Kane’s finishing. He is currently riding a wave of good fortune demonstrated by his fluky finishes against Liverpool and West Ham.

Liverpool v Tottenham, Barclays Premier League Football, Anfield, Britain - 10 Feb 2015

I mean to take nothing away from Kane, if he continues to score, then who I am to judge? I’m just not sure whether he will. His goals against Chelsea and Arsenal give a glimpse of a fantastic player but he has not done that enough. His four assists illustrate the type of player Kane is. He is a poacher, he will not take part in much of the build up, but put the ball in the six yard box and he’ll get on the end of it. He will therefore be judged upon his goals. This season he has passed with flying colours.

Is that enough for the international stage though?

The best international strikers appear to have more to their game. Benzema, Rooney, Ibrahimovic and Suarez are all involved with the build-up as much as the finish. However, there is also room for Costa, Higuaín and Falcao who prioritise their goals ahead of participating in general play. These players are becoming less and less common though and are exceptional finishers (when they are not crying).

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Kane can be this player for England. Unlike Sturridge or Welbeck he will not vacate his position as the target man and assumes that role much more naturally than either of those two. This could work well with the marauding Rooney behind, providing some much needed focus. However, Kane is a long way from proving he is of such class. One good season is a great foundation on which to build on but not the makings of a player. He has much to prove before he can be considered international class.

Austin, Berahino and Ings are all close behind him whilst playing in struggling teams. They do not have the likes of Eriksen, the best playmaker in the Premier League, or the rejuvenated Lamela supplying perfectly weighted balls for them to dispatch. They have Barton, Fletcher and Kighlty, good players in their own right but not of the same class. Kane can only play with what he is given I admit, but these three should not be overlooked. For me, Berahino is the only one with world-class potential but Kane is rightly ahead of him for the moment.

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The Verdict: irrelevant imposter (for now)

I’ll lay my cards on the table. I’m unconvinced. There have been too many false Messiahs in recent years: Rodwell, Jones, Barkley, Wilshere, Carroll the list goes on and on. I am not saying these players cannot return and make an impact on the international stage but we do not learn from our mistakes. We propel these young guys into stardom heaping praise and fortune upon them before they have even passed their driving test. It should be no surprise that so many fall by the wayside. Even those that do “make it” do not fulfil their true potential as shown by Wayne Rooney.

The drive to succeed is lost. Their dreams realised, the enthusiasm and fight vanishes. This may not be the case for Harry Kane, who admittedly appears to possess a steely edge to him, but, as a footballing nation, we must learn from our mistakes. Kane deserves to start against Lithuania but the warning of George Santayana must be heeded:

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.