Author: Kris

The writer.

A message to Steve Parish: WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU?

Back when Ian Holloway left Crystal Palace late last year, I earmarked Tony Pulis as the one candidate I didn’t want to see as manager. I have just finished baking a delicious humble pie, and I relish eating every last bite of it, leaving no crumbs, such is my commitment to admitting how atrociously wrong I was.

Less than a year later, all of his astonishing work has been undone, shredded, left in tatters, all in one fell swoop by a chairman who himself has performed minor miracles over the last 5 years in getting the club to the Premier League.

12405776333_2514835fc7_kPulis has been something of a managerial revelation, though it really shouldn’t come as a surprise. This is a man who has never been relegated as a manager, lest we forget. His forte seems to be taking relegation-threatened teams and turning them into competent mid-table teams with the potential to push on to promotion and the higher reaches with the right investment. He has done what he did at Palace numerous times in the lower divisions, with clubs like Gillingham, Stoke City, and Plymouth Argyle all benefiting from his managerial wizardry.

Unfortunately, this hasn’t come without a certain caveat, something that all football fans associate with Pulis: unattractive football. His second stint at Stoke ended after the owners felt a change in play style from Delap long throws, hitting long balls, and selecting an XI that rarely contained a player under 6 feet in height. When he came to Palace, though, the long ball style was a little less prevalent; instead Selhurst Park was treated to his usual rock solid defensive displays, but also a brand of counter attacking football which saw Yannick Bolasie, Marouane Chamakh and Jason Puncheon thrive as a trio in a 4-2-3-1 formation, and later saw Dwight Gayle(the physical embodiment of the antithesis of a Pulis centre-forward) hit major form, scoring two braces in the final two matches of the season. Pulis was a man who had reinvented his style to match the players he had. It married perfectly.

This season’s transfer window has bee somewhat of a disappointment. The only signings of note up until today were Frazier Campbell for a fee of around £600,000, while Brede Hangeland signed on a free transfer. Martin Kelly joined today for a fee of £1.5m. A total of £2.1m spent on a club trying to stay in the division? Leicester spent £8m just on one player in Leonardo Ulloa: that’s intent to stay in the division.

Steve Parish will no doubt have his reasons for not wanting to invest heavily. It wasn’t so long ago that the club was on the brink of not existing, after all. He will want to put money into developing the area around the stadium, redeveloping the training ground, and bringing forth youth.

But there is not statement of intent. No key signing. We remain without a proper left-back, and quality midfield options are hard to come by. What intent he has shown has been in the form of interest in re-signing Wilfried Zaha, a player Pulis reportedly has no interest in. The conflict then appears to be between what the manager thinks is best for the club, and what the owner thinks the fans want to see. After the award-winning season Pulis has delivered, Parish has to comply with his needs. Now that he’s gone, less than two days before a massive game against Arsenal, the club appears to be entering a state of ruin. Parish only has himself to blame.

The club’s biggest asset and arguably greatest manager has gone. Steve Parish needs to act fast to regain the fans trust. Let this be a message to all owners: you do NOT run the club, you merely fund it and own it, hence OWNER. The MANAGER manages the club, hence MANAGER. Literal terms, intended to be used literally.

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A SmokedSammon prediction-based preview of the 2014 World Cup

Ladies and gentlemen, it is upon us at last. Football’s greatest festival starts on the 12th of June with a match between the host nation and sure-fire favourites Brazil, and Croatia, a solid team praised for nurturing great footballing talent for a nation of it’s size. And already, many micro-stories have developed; Neymar, Brazil’s golden boy, goes over on his ankle in training and remains a doubt for the opener, Eduardo will sing the national anthems of both his birth country Brazil and his national team Croatia before the game, and of course, the riots rage on, continuing to cloud what is supposed to be a wonderful event that serves to bring the world closer, not drive it apart.

As a result, I start off this post by offering a few words on the situation. To those that have been negatively effected in any way by the riots, I speak on behalf of the world when I say our thoughts are with you. Pictures like the one below are examples of things no one wants to see happen, and the emotional and physical harm caused to innocent citizens over the last year by rioting is something I cannot articulate in mere words.

35 buses were set ablaze by rioters in April. Image sourced from http://www.saach.tv

Brazil brought the World Cup back for the first time in 64 years to catalyse a change in fortunes for the largely impoverished nation. Instead, it’s served to only anger the public further. The corrupt democrats in charge have pumped all their resources into the World Cup, leaving those sectors in real need of monetary defibrillation to survive on their own. Indeed, some $10bn has been spent on stadiums and infrastructure alone. How dearly could those in need have used a mere fraction of that money? And, given this state of affairs, is the World Cup affordable? Will it leave the country in a more dire situation than before? As someone who doesn’t claim to be a financial expert, I’m not really in a position to answer these questions, but I assume those in charge will have to at some point, as more and more people, enraged by a corrupt, ethically uneducated and financially unstable system, continue to be ravaged by racism and poverty, and prove that the face we see of a nation that is all about samba, heat, partying, women, and of course football, is nothing more than a facade.

Nevertheless, the show must, and will, go on. As a result, I shall now proceed to not predict the path of the World Cup. Indeed, I have learned my lesson from the last time I tried to do that.

The Small Matter of England

What will the starting line-up be against Italy?

This question can be answered two ways: 1) Who I want to start, and 2) Who Roy Hodgson will actually select. Below are the answers to both of those questions.

                                                                            1) 

                                                                            2)ScreenHunter_04 Jun. 10 16.28

I have gone for the line-up that I feel that most people would like to see walk out in the first game; a standard back 5, a Gerrard-Henderson central partnership, starts for Lallana, Barkley, and Sterling, and a complete lack of Wayne. I don’t feel the need to justify this too much, but this, in terms of momentum and form from the Premier League season just gone by, is our strongest XI. Plenty of attacking guile and creativity, Gerrard pulling the strings, and Henderson doing the legwork. The back 4 looks suspect, but it’s more or less the best we have available to us.

My prediction for Hodgson’s XI is based in a couple of things. Firstly, the infatuation with HAVING to playing Rooney, as staggeringly unbelievable as it is after the completely uninteresting season he has had, is present, and we have to deal with it. Crow-barring Rooney in the side is seemingly Hodgson’s priority if recent friendlies are anything to go by, so expect to see Wayne fill in at right-back if Glen gets injured just to squeeze him in (you never know, it might work, not hard to be a better defender than Glen is it). Secondly, is a similar infatuation with Wilshere as the saviour of our central midfield. This isn’t necessarily Hodgson’s problem, but the country seems to love him to bits, so I could see Hodgson going with him. I have so many issues with this; he’s barely played this season and, given how much of a glass cannon he is and how people target him, it’s a bit like putting a plate of Jaffa Cakes (other cakes/biscuits are available) in front of a 7 year old and telling them not to eat them. Not to mention, what do people see in him exactly? 4 assists from 29 games for someone who supposedly has such a great eye for a pass is poor. All I see him do is run forward with the ball and give it away, it’s frustrating. He mustn’t start. Finally, the inclusion of Welbeck in friendly teams is very divisive. His record for England speaks volumes; 8 in 23 is decently prolific for someone stuck in a left midfield position. However, I would not consider any Manchester United player for the starting XI. They’ve been dreadful this season, and none of them should feel entitled to starting place just because of the badge they wear on weekends. You have to earn your place, and Sterling, Lallana, and Barkley have all done that.

How far will England get?

I wasn’t entertaining the idea of anything above 3rd place (in the group, of course) up until this recent bout of friendlies. Italy however, have lost a crucial player to a broken leg in Montolivo (we wish him a speedy recovery). A 0-0 against Ireland and a shock 1-1 against Luxembourg of all teams sees them enter the tournament with precisely no momentum. At this stage, I can’t see them trouncing us, and a draw could see it go down to goal difference for second place, and we can do that. Uruguay will win the group with 9 points, of course, but 4 points and a lot of goals will see us through. I would then expect a match against Colombia, and on paper, the two are very evenly matched. Should we beat them, the quarter finals would see us more than likely face Brazil, and that is as far as I could see us going. Realistically, reaching the last 16 can be seen as a relatively successful campaign.

Who will be top scorer?

I’ve earmarked five potential top scorers for this tournament. Some come as no shock, some do.

Neymar

As much as his injury scare could throw this into doubt, and as much as I strongly dislike the little wussbag (1. n. bag of wuss), he is Brazil’s star man, and his record of 31 goals in 49 appearances speaks volumes of his ability to conjure goals. The Confederations Cup Player of the Tournament goes into the World Cup as the man to take the Golden Boot from.

Fred

Looking to steal Neymar’s spotlight is strike partner Fred, who has come right back into the fold in recent years after a baron patch in his career between 2006 and 2010. Now that he is back firing on all cylinders, and fresh from being joint top scorer with Fernando Torres at the Confederations Cup with 5 goals, he can be considered a real threat to opposition defences.

Miroslav Klose

As sentimental as this selection may be, Klose has the opportunity to go down in World Cup history. Currently on 14 goals, he needs 2 goals to beat Ronaldo’s record of 15 goals at World Cups. No one will be hungrier for goals than Klose.

Lionel Messi

He’s in the very lucky position of having accomplished everything there is to do at club level at the age of 26. He has 86 appearances for Argentina and 39 goals, but only 1 at a World Cup, in the 6-0 drubbing of Serbia and Montenegro in 2006. Trust me, he will be as motivated as anyone there to cap of his gleaming collection of medals and trophies with a World Cup win, and the conditions will suit him down to a tee. But first, he has to break his scoring drought, and I can see him doing that in fine style in a group Argentina are set to walk through.

Edin Dzeko

My surprise inclusion here is Edin Dzeko. In the same group as Argentina, he will be up against Iran and Nigeria, and with a record of 35 goals in 62 games, he’s more than capable of causing severe damage. Providing they fend off Nigeria for second, which I predict they will easily, they’re likely to meet Switzerland or France in the last 16, and again, Dzeko can make them pay too. Definitely one to keep an eye on.

Honourable Mentions

Probably the biggest omission is Luis Suarez. After the season he has had, the momentum he is carrying into the World Cup is tremendous, and he is also someone acclimatised to the heat and humidity of South America. He is however, in a group with Italy and England, who tend not to roll over easily.

Similarly, Cristiano Ronaldo doesn’t make the list. His group is very difficult much like Suarez’s (Germany, Ghana, USA), and Portugal have been wholeheartedly unimpressive in qualifying. He’ll need his team to up their game if he wants to progress out of the group stages and score goals.

The likes of Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard miss out too. With Lukaku potentially out for the first two group stage games, his task could prove too difficult, and Eden Hazard, despite a quality season for Chelsea, only has 6 international goals from 45 games, which is simply not good enough.

Last tournaments’ Golden Boot winner Thomas Muller also doesn’t make the cut. He’s been totally anonymous this season, and, despite being excellent for Germany overall, Joachim Low could opt against starting Muller altogether. We’ve sen both Gotze and Schurrle play down the middle, and Klose and Podolski are both experience international strikers.

Finally, Brazilian-come-Spaniard Diego Costa doesn’t make the list. A big advantage he has over other European strikers is… he’s Brazilian. This will feel more homely for him. Currently being treated for a hamstring injury though, he may not be match fit, by which point Vicente del Bosque may have already decided to stick with his tried and trusted false 9 formula which bought him the European Championship in 2012. Then there’s the question of whether he’ll fit into the tiki taka style of play, and also his lack of international experience.

Surprise Packages?

I touched upon Dzeko being a surprise contender before, and I would like to extend that to Bosnia and Herzegovina. They should finish 2nd in their group, and a game against Switzerland or France could see them advance to the quarter finals, some achievement given they were nearly banned from competing in 2011 by FIFA, which would surely have set them back.

People keep talking about Belgium as surprise contenders. With their squad, what exactly is a surprise? If they got 9 points from Russia, South Korea, and Algeria, I would be totally unsurprised. If their beat second place in Group G, likely Portugal or Ghana, again, not surprised. They should make the quarter finals at least with their team. A more likely surprise would be if the Netherlands could repeat 4 years ago and beat Brazil, provided they can advance from a tough group B.

My major pick for a surprise though is Ghana. The World Cup 2010 semi-finalists* could go all the way there again this time if recent dominant results in friendlies give any indication. With Kevin-Prince Boateng and Asamoah Gyan back out of retirement, their side is full strength, and I would love to see them get retribution for that act of footballing terrorism.

The Winners?

It’s boring to say Brazil or Argentina, but they’re too obvious to look past. However, I do fancy Germany to go the distance, their team is ridiculously strong and they all have a lot to prove given a lack of international trophies since 1990.

Everything said, let’s try and enjoy the World Cup as a united World. We can joke about Martin Demichelis and watch in awe as Luis Suarez commits sin again. Our jaws can drop to the floor as one as Ross Barkley spanks one into the top corner from 25 yards, and we can cry in unison when we do tumble out. But let us not forget about the tragedies and realities the World Cup is bringing, and pray that in the end, football can bring everyone together and to their senses, and someone does the right thing.

*Uruguay don’t count

The story of football’s secret title

I start this article with a question. Which title has been held by both Brazil and Curacao (formerly Dutch Antilles)? Has been defended successfully by England more times than Argentina and Germany? Has been held by 48 different nations? A title Scotland has had more success with than any other nation? Not got it yet?

It’s Friday 30th May. Uruguay take on Northern Ireland in what would seem like any ordinary friendly. However, there are penalties if the game ends in a draw. People across the country take to the internet to find out why, and notice there is something on the line.

“Northern Ireland can win something tonight. Their friendly against Uruguay will see the winner take home a trophy, could see penalties.” – @FullPitchPress on 30/05/2014

What is this trophy? Well, Uruguay are the current holders of the Unofficial Football World Champions (UFWC) title, spawned in 1872 and virtually manifested by the CW Alcock Trophy, and a goal from Christian Stuani secured a successful defence over the Northern Irish. They won on the 16th October 2013 in a stunning back-and-forth encounter with Argentina, ending 3-2, their 17th of 19 (and counting) UFWC victories. Let’s first lay down the rules: a nation wins the title by defeating the current title holder, winning one ranking point in the process. A draw sees the title remain with the holders, though draws do not contribute a ranking point. The title is defended in every single international “A” match played by the holder, be it a friendly, qualifier, or World Cup final. The title has it’s own official reptilian mascot called Hughie and even an array of merchandise.

Below is a table of the top 10 most successful nations, and the results may seem a little surprising.

ScreenHunter_02 May. 31 18.31

*Adapted from Ranking table at http://www.ufwc.co.uk/rankings/.

You are reading that correctly: in it’s most unofficial sense, Scotland are the best team on God’s green Earth, with England a close second. 48 years of hurt my backside, right? It’s not quite as clear cut as that, it never is. We’ve haven’t held the title since 1975, which spanned from the first victory against West Germany in March until a 2-1 loss to the former Czechoslovakia in October. Since then, we’ve had four shots at the title, the first being the unforgettable loss to Argentina at the 1998 World Cup on penalties, then a loss to France in a friendly at Wembley in 1999, followed up by draws in friendlies against France (1-1) in 2000, and the Netherlands (2-2) in 2009. So really, it’s only 39 years of hurt and counting, thanks Baddiel and Skinner. In fact, the legitimacy of the table has come under scrutiny from many sides, as a lot of Scotland and England’s points came before the inception of the World Cup, where there was a lack of competitive opposition and the two spent the better part of 60 years trading victories, in matches solely competed between nations of the British Isles until Hungary got a shot in 1909. But hey, who are we to complain?

The first ever UFWC match was England vs Scotland, and, in an exact mirror of modern day British Isles-based football, it was a dour 0-0. Their second encounter ended in a 4-2 victory to England, so yes, we we’re the first (unofficial) world champions. The first non-Isles nation to capture the UFWC title was Austria in 1931, winning it from Scotland in style with a thumping 5-0 win. A full match report can be read here. The first team outside of Europe to clinch their first title victory was the USA, beating England 1-0 at the 1950 World Cup, only to lose their newly-won honour THREE DAYS later in a 5-2 thrashing by Chile. As mentioned earlier, Curacao won their only title as Netherlands Antilles. This puts them level on wins with a much bigger footballing nation: Mexico. Mexico had won their title from Czechoslovakia in June of 1962 and held it for the next 9 months undefended, until one of the shocks of competitive football saw Netherlands Antilles beat them 2-1 for their title in June 1963 at the CONCACAF Cup in El Salvador, an own goal by Jesús del Muro proving all too costly for the Mexicans.

As I have already mentioned, England haven’t held the title since 1975 and have only had four opportunities since then to reclaim it. Well, shot number five could well be around the corner. If Uruguay can overcome Slovenia on Thursday 5th June, the UFWC will make its 12th appearance at the World Cup, a competition in which no team has entered with the title and walked out with it still wrapped around the proverbial waistline, the Netherlands coming closest by reaching the final in 1974 and 2010 before being defeated by West Germany and Spain respectively. The first defence would be against Costa Rica, and provided that there are no shocks there, England are next in line. Can they take our tally to 74 victories in the group stages of the World Cup? We shall have to wait and see if they can defy the odds against Uruguay and reclaim the title which we held before anyone else.

All statistics sourced from the UFWC wesbite at http://www.ufwc.co.uk.

But David, you were The Chosen One

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After month upon month of fan unrest and heavy speculation, David Moyes has finally been put out of his misery. His sacking puts one final coat of gloss on what has been a truly harrowing season for everyone involved with the Red Devils. The dossier for what went wrong is full of fan and professional opinions, containing varying degrees of aggression, sympathy and philosophy.

For a start, Alex McLeish was one of the first to come out and say what has been said about every sacking this season: he needed more time. This got me thinking: What exactly is time? Managing a football club is not about how much time you have to make slight advancements, it’s about how well you use this time to get the best out of your club and players. Take Brendan Rodgers and Tony Pulis as examples. In two seasons, Rodgers has taken Liverpool from Mid-table obscurity to the verge of their first Premier League title in 24 years. Pulis, who I was not originally fond of as the man to save Crystal Palace, has taken them from relegation fodder to mid-table consolidation on merit in 23 games. David Moyes has had 35 games and three cup competitions to prove his worth, and clearly, he hasn’t used what time he has had effectively enough. This is Manchester United, the creme de la creme, and there is no place for time wasters at the top. You’d think, over the course of the season, they would have got better, gone on a run of form, or maybe won a trophy. But they haven’t even shown signs of improving performances on the pitch, let alone winning matches. When Mauricio Pochettino entered the fray at Southampton last season amidst a relegation scrap, the fans were on his back from the get go; what he did was use the time he had to make them a defensive unit who could break out quickly from opposition attacks, and now they’re more than secure in a lofty 8th place after a phenomenal season. Moyes? He’s come in, and by the looks of it tried to teach canny playmakers Shinji Kagawa and Juan Mata that the only way to attack is to pummel the box with crosses until something goes in. This has been the one major disappointment for me this season: severe one-dimensionality.

Clearly, as a second point, Moyes has been tactically inefficient. Insistent on utilising the outdated 4-4-2 formation, Kagawa and Mata have find themselves playing as widemen this season. Let’s take a short walk across the conurbation to Manchester City; they also play a variation of 4-4-2, but Silva and Nasri have all the freedom they could wish for, playing more as a rank of attacking midfielders in a 4-2-2-2 formation than wingers in a 4-4-2. Moyes tried to change the formula when van Persie succumbed to injury, and it worked to a degree, with Mata proving to be much more effective in his natural #10 role. However, drafting in Ashley Young on the right was a massive mistake. Being ambidextrous, he can play on either side, but he still favours his right peg, which means one thing: a barrage of crosses from the right. Even a change in formation to one that suits his players more did nothing for his one-dimensional approach to attacking. And yes, Kagawa was still stuffed out wide where he doesn’t belong. Playing Januzaj or Zaha would have been a much better decision than Young. They both have the ability to create and excite, and having them mix up their positions with Kagawa and even Mata would have made for a visually pleasant and effective attacking display. The defensive issues haven’t been addressed either. Phil Jones needs to play in a single position to develop as a world-class talent, and none of the old guard have replacements lined up. £27.5m for Fellaini looks even worse when you consider some of the transfer dealings for some the world’s most promising defenders have gone right under their noses: Medhi Benatia and Angelo Ogbonna cost a combined £23.3m in the summer to Roma and Juventus respectively, a brand new defense for £4m less than the cost of Fellaini, and they’ve missed their chance. His relentless and hopeless pursuit of Cesc Fabregas wasted, you guessed it, TIME. While not like for like, Christian Eriksen, Tottenham’s most impressive player this season, cost £11m. Can someone please explain to me the logic in not signing him over the overvalued and out-of-reach Fabregas? One final note: giving Wayne Rooney a £300k-a-week deal is not a statement of intent, it’s a statement of witlessness. Let him cry about his “lack” of wealth and sign a new, promising, hungry player on the back of a solid world cup; Abel Hernandez, Jackson Martinez, Alessio Cerci, Ciro Immobile, Mattia Destro, Son Heung-Min and others all have the potential to break out if taken.

It wasn’t all Moyes’ fault though: the fans have to take their portion of the blame. They’ve been blowing hot and cold about facing the prospect of a life without Fergie, knowing this season wouldn’t be as good as the last 20 or so they’ve enjoyed. There was a sense of optimism around the club at first, but when things started to go sour a few months into the season, and home losses racked up, that turned to disdain. Not being used to not succeeding is hard, I know, but speaking from experience, you back your team and manager through everything. From Moyes’ first loss to his last, the majority have been the exact opposite of supportive and silent at matches, barring boos for their own team. Sure, you cheer the team when they win or draw, but the reaction to losses has, on the whole, been pretty sad. Take Crystal Palace again; not to be biased, but we have the loudest support in the Premier League at home regardless of the result, and are always topping the away support numbers lists. United fans just don’t have that in them, particularly since the Glazers have come in, where everything has just felt like a business and not a club.

While I believe this sacking is long overdue, the timing means that no one is going to gain anything from this sacking. Sure, Ryan Giggs gets his chance to interim-manage the team, but three games from the end of the season, it isn’t going to make any difference. Sacking managers at this stage is just pointless unless there is a ready-made replacement in the pipeline, so they should have given Moyes those three games, and then sacked him if they were poor, or just sacked him anyway, considering how dogged a campaign it has been for them. Same goes for Hughton, who was sacked with five games left: if he was that bad, why not sack him sooner to give a new face the chance to resurrect the season? With Norwich now looking certain to be relegated, one has to wonder whether the power to sack a manager should be taken well out of the owner’s hands. Of the twenty managers who started this season, only eleven have made it to the end of the season, and ten have been sacked altogether. That number is far too high, so something in the regulations has to change in order to protect managers.

All in all though, Moyes’ time is up. The shortlist is being drawn up as I write this. One can hope, for the neutral, Steve Kean, Terry Connor, Leroy Rosenior, or the dynamic duo or Paul Jewell and Chris Hutchings make stunning returns to high-end football management, or maybe even a management consortium comprised of all five. For United fans, they’ll be hoping the second dawning of the post-Fergie era goes markedly better than the first. Hell, it can’t get much worse, right? Only time will tell.

Ten stand-out players so far this season

10) RICHARD DUNNE

Judging by some of their defensive displays this season, Aston Villa may come to regret the release of experienced Irishman Richard Dunne. In 11 appearances for QPR this season, he has conceded 4 goals, while QPR have only conceded 6 all season. Much like Wayne Bridge and Matthew Upson last season, he has caught my eye by rejuvenating his career in the Championship.

9) KEVIN LISBIE

Michael Owen wishes he was still scoring goals into his 30s like Kevin Lisbie. Lisbie has hit a real purple patch of goals this season, 12 to be precise, which has helped propel Leyton Orient to the top of League 1 as their shockingly impressive league form continues.

8) LEWIS HOLTBY

£1.5m is a real snip for a player of such quality. Hampered by injury at the start of the season, Holtby hit form in the Europa League where everything Spurs did seemed to involve him in a big way. He bagged 3 assists and a goal in the process. Always wearing his heart on his sleeve, he’s slowly started to cement his status as the creative hub of the first team, ousting Christian Eriksen in the process, no mean feat. Without doubt a possible future Spurs captain.

7) BRITT ASSOMBALONGA

Much was said when he moved to Peterborough from Watford for over £1m in the summer, a pricetag which raised many an eyebrow. He seems to be justifying  that pricetag with some exceptional performances up top, bagging 7 goals and scooping a Young Player of the Month award.

6) JAMES VAUGHAN

James Vaughan is one of those players who never reached the potential his peers told everyone he would. Several loans out, a move to Norwich, still no goals. His initial loan period at Huddersfield was solid, scoring 14 times, but a permanent move there seems to have done wonders to his form. At times he’s looked unplayable on the shoulders of centre backs this season, bagging himself 9 goals in 12 appearances. Players can bloom into superstars late, hopefully this is the case with Vaughan.

5) OLIVIER GIROUD

Olivier Giroud has looked like a completely different player this season. While his goalscoring form has petered out somewhat recently, he practically made the Wilshire goal dubbed ‘goal of the season’. He has impressively developed his all round game this season and become more than just a poacher but someone with an assist or so in him as well. We might finally have a true replacement for Henry at last.

4) AARON RAMSEY

This season’s SECOND biggest surprise has been the astonishing form of Aaron Ramsey. when he broke his leg in 2010, no one thought he’d ever recover to reach his potential. Well, it seems there is no predicting anything these days, as he is now a mainstay of the Arsenal midfield. What’s surprised me is his sudden ability to sell defenders dummies, score from a variety of places, assist with a range of passing, and an ability to retain possession with strength, which no one could have foreseen.

3 & 2) SAM VOKES AND DANNY INGS

Never before has a top scoring striker leaving your club been such a blessing in disguise. Pundits feared for Burnley’s Championship status when Charlie Austin departed for QPR in the summer for a lofty fee, and never has that looked like such a good deal. It has allowed Danny Ings and Sam Vokes to form possibly the most lethal strike partnership the Championship has ever seen. They link up seamlessly and have already amassed 17 goals between them this season. A lot of the credit for this has to go to Sean Dyche, but if he wants to earn promotion, he has to keep these two out of the physio’s room.

1) DEJAN LOVREN

His transfer seemed to slip under everyone’s radar, but having watched a few Lyon games last season out of interest, Lovren’s performances really stood out to me, not just because he is a world class centre back, but also because he has so much passion for everything he does. He gives 100% every game for Southampton, gets himself and his teammates pumped for every game, and is responsible in part for Southampton’s almost impossibly good defensive record this season. He gets the important goals too, having got the winner against Liverpool and the equaliser against Manchester United. What impresses me most is how he always celebrates likes he’s just won £15 million on the lottery when they get points, slapping his teammates faces and screaming at them with glee and adrenaline. If it wasn’t for Adam Lallana he’d be captain already. Lovren’s pure passion could well be the sole reason for Southampton’s form and eventual European place.

Assembling a Premier League XI of players who don’t start regularly

Watching Shinji Kagawa start for the first time in what feels like an age against Stoke at the weekend got me thinking: what if I were to put together a starting XI of players who don’t start regularly for their clubs? Would be able to reach the top 4, or would it sink into the Football League sea? Before I begin, I want to highlight some notable omissions from the XI, perhaps forming a sub’s subs bench if you will.

Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea) – It says a lot about Chelsea’s faith in Petr Cech that arguably the best young keeper in the world is constantly being loaned out to Atletico Madrid. It’s about time he got his chance in the blue jersey. Personally, I think he’ll be gone within a few seasons, probably to Barcelona. The only reason he doesn’t make the squad is because he is getting regular football, albeit in a different division.

Willian and Kevin de Bruyne (Chelsea) – Both of these have been used in rotation with mainly Schurrle and Mata this season but Mourinho seems to have settled on his trio being Schurrle, Hazard and Mata. Haven’t shown me enough in the games they have played in to warrant a place in my side.

Gerard Deulofeu and Arouna Kone (Everton) – Big things were expected of these two when they signed for Everton. Deulofeu has buckets of potential and Kone has last season to live up two. Neither have played enough, though when Kone has, he hasn’t been brilliant. I’ve left these two out because they are being kept out by players in form.

Edin Dzeko (Manchester City) and Iago Aspas (Liverpool) – Dzeko has been scoring goals this season when he has played, and Aspas looked inspired in pre-season. However, they aren’t making the lineups for their respective clubs because of the form of their positional counterparts: Negredo/Aguero and Luis Suarez respectively.

Here’s the XI:

———————-Freidel———————-

–Richards–Diakite–Agger–Monreal–

———————-Sandro———————

————–Kagawa——Jovetic————-

——Mata —Hernandez—-Lamela——

GK –  Brad Friedel: Due to his advancing years, he probably will never be considered a first choice keeper by any Premier League side. However, I believe that he still puts most of the Prem’s keepers to shame with solid and consistent goalkeeping displays. Personally, I hope he gets another chance at regular Premier League goalkeeping at another club, because no keeper can overthrow Hugo Lloris at Spurs right now.

RB – Micah Richards: A player with bags of ability going forwards and going back who never seems to have been given a fair crack of the whip, Micah Richards occupies my right-back position. Personally, Zabaleta has been the only good part of City’s back 5 this season, but that doesn’t mean that Richards isn’t being criminally wasted at City. He’s more than capable of playing at centre back ahead of Demichelis in the absence of Kompany. And why he never gets called up for England is a mega-rant for another day…

CB – Daniel Agger: When Liverpool played a flat back four with a laughable lack of success against Southampton earlier this season, Daniel Agger was the one who was criticised the most with his performance at left back. Let me get this straight, he IS NOT a left back. Sakho CAN play there. It was a terrible decision to begin with. Now that Liverpool play 3 centre backs, Agger has been left out in the cold and that’s strange considering Martin Skrtel hasn’t played well all season (he seems to give away a not-penalty every game). No wonder he’s being linked with moves away.

CB – Mobido Diakite: Sunderland landed somewhat of a coup when they signed highly-rated French defender Diakite in the summer. Since then, he has been plagued with hamstring injuries which have limited his appearances. However, when he has been fit, he’s played well alongside the very very poor John O’Shea and out-of-depth Valentin Roberge, even helping his side to a point at Southampton with a dominant defensive display. Now he has disappeared from the squad again after first being dropped (don’t ask me, ask Di Canio) and then not re-emerging in the squads with what I would presume to be another injury. This guy needs a solid centre back partner, and more game time.

LB – Nacho Monreal: Monreal ended last season in great form but has barely played this season and I really can’t understand why. Kieran Gibbs is a good attacking full-back but I honestly can’t see him ever being better than Monreal defensively and I’d call it evens going forward. Arsene, this is the one mistake you’ve made all season… barring what happened against Villa.

CDM – Sandro: Sandro has been absolutely dominant in midfield in the Europa League this season. He breaks play up, sets it up, tackles hard, drives forward, gets back, he’s the complete package, yet Dembele, who isn’t even a defensive midfielder, plays in his place. It beggars belief. Yes, Dembele is quality, particularly at retaining the ball, but Spurs shouldn’t oust Sandro just to squeeze him in. Fortunately, I think AVB is beginning to realise this, as he has started Sandro in the Prem recently.

CAM – Shinji Kagawa: This one’s been discussed so much it’s becoming cliched to mention ‘omission from the starting line up’ and ‘Kagawa’ in the same utterance. All I will say is this: #freeshinji. Oh, and when you do free him, don’t stick him on the left.

CAM – Stefan Jovetic: This is the most criminal waste of talent in the squad. Why spend £20 million on a benchwarmer? He’s too good to be left out in favour of the likes of Samir ‘passenger’ Nasri, James Milner and and out-of-position Yaya Toure. Maybe the issue here is that he works best off a striker, and City already play both Aguero and Negredo. It’s going against what I believe to squeeze players into teams out-of-position just to get them in, so City may need to find a new role for the Montenegrin.

RW – Juan Mata: No need for too much discussion here. Yes, people will say his form has dipped, but Chelsea’s PLAYER OF THE SEASON FOR 2012-13 probably just needs a bit of confidence from Mourinho, who seems to think quite low of him, which must be affecting his confidence.

LW – Erik Lamela: £30m buys you cover for Andros Townsend it seems. Widely tipped as a replacement for Gareth Bale, Lamela’s Tottenham career is yet to take off, with no starts in the Premier League. Part of this is the form of Townsend and Holtby at right and centre-attack midfield respectively, but left-mid is yet to be nailed down it seems, with Sigurdsson, while in good form, not being a natural wideman. If they do start playing Lamela here over Sigurdsson and the likes of the inconsistent Eriksen and Lennon (which they should, games means player development), I’d expect to see a much more potent Spurs attack, because Lamela has goals and assists aplenty in his arsenal.

ST – Javier Hernandez: When Robin van Persie appeared to show signs of a dip in form earlier this season, Moyes has stuck with him, to his credit. And it’s fair to say van Persie is being outclassed by Rooney still, which is very unlike him. That’s why I can’t understand why Moyes hasn’t dropped him for Hernandez yet. Not only would it give van Persie a kick up the arse, but Hernandez is a proven goalscorer who would have buried a lot of the chances van Persie has missed this season. He’s quick and is a very natural poacher-style goalscorer, which would seem to complement Rooney’s playing style perfectly. Criminally wasted talent who may need to work harder for the team on the pitch to nail down a starting birth.

Where would this team finish?: Given the attacking prowess of this team, a top 4 finish would seem a lock. However, I could see this being a team that gets somewhat drowned out in midfield a little if Mata and Lamela don’t track back and help out, which could lead to problems for the back 4. They could easily finish in the top 6 and push for Champions League though, albeit probably not under my management.

If you think there’s a player I’ve missed who is criminally underutilised, don’t hesitate to leave a comment.

Holloway leaving is best for both parties, but who should replace him?

Many South London fans’ heart’s sank earlier today with the announcement that Ian Holloway has departed the club by mutual consent. The decision comes off the back of a run of 5 straight defeats and only one win in 8 with 7 losses, leaving Palace deserted in the relegation zone with 3 points, two ahead of Sunderland. Many fans have jumped to the same conclusion that I did: it’s too soon, he needs to be given time, and that this is all just one giant knee-jerk reaction. However, on closer inspection, it seems like the time was right for both parties to go their separate ways.

Holloway is a man known for using his passion for the game as his main weapon. Normally, he would be able to say some inspiring words in his team talks and the team would perform better as a result. However, it seems that this didn’t work against Fulham, leading Holloway to say that his team had lost the spirit it had had during their promotion season. It was this undermining of the importance of team spirit by Holloway that has lead to a shocking downturn in form recently. In addition, his signings have been more about quantity than quality, as noted by things such as Jimmy Kebe’s lack of composure infront of goal at Liverpool, and, in general, anyone’s ability to hold down a regular starting place. Holloway seems to have given up at a very early stage, which is very unlike him, and as a result, stepping away from the job may be the right decision, given that there are 30 games and a transfer window left for the new manager, started with the visit to Arsenal at the weekend. The guy just knew he couldn’t keep them up.

Steve Parish stated in today’s press conference that he didn’t want to let Holloway go. He would rather have gone down and come back up with him if it meant that the club was moving forwards and the squad and playing style was settling. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t to be. The two have separated on amicable terms, Holloway will probably be in a new job before the close of the year, and Parish now has the task of trying to find a new, experienced manager to keep the club up. Many names are already being touted, notably Uwe Rosler and Sean Dyche on the Facebook fan page. While I would especially be in favour of a move for Dyche, these both seem very unlikely despite their highly impressive club records. Top of the bookies’ lists is Tony Pulis followed by Avram Grant, Neil Warnock, and Roberto di Matteo. Of the four, Neil Warnock seems the least likely, as he is probably done with management, at least for now. Avram Grant is also unlikely, as he has been relegated twice as a manager. Tony Pulis seems to be an ideal candidate having never been relegated as a manager, and he would sort out the shoddy defense. However, Palace do not play hoofball, Parish does not want to see hoofball, the fans do not want to see hoofball, and even if he was accepted, Palace don’t have the players to play hoofball. This leaves di Matteo. A former Champions League winning manager, may find the task of keeping a bulging, unsettled squad up rather unappealing, but he is by far the best candidate for the job if he is up for some hard work, and should be approached first. Other than this, I’d love to see Dougie Freedman return and finish what he started, and perhaps bring back the team spirit that got Palace to where they are in the first place. it isn’t working out at Bolton and could be tempted by a move to the Premier League.

I expect a manager would be in place next week, giving Keith Millen the chance to manage the game against Arsenal. Parish will likely have many more sleepless nights ahead as he draws up his shortlist.