Author: Kris

The writer.

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.

 

Diving in to the diving debate

As a Crystal Palace fan, you can all understand my beef with Ashley Young. A player notorious for simulation and conning referees and not for his ability, Young was at it again on two separate occasions. The first was a booking, fair play by Johnathan Moss. The second will likely engender debate across the country for a long time.

The incident plays out as follows. Mile Jedinak gives the ball away to Young and he bears down on the Palace goal. He takes a touch towards the box and, pretty clearly, does not follow the ball and instead runs into the path of a retreating Kagisho Dikgacoi. He then proceeds to lean into him and go down before Dikgacoi slides and goes down too. The result is a penalty and a red card for Dikgacoi. I can’t find any footage of the incident right now but I will embed it as soon as I find it. For those of you who have seen it, there are at least three things we can agree on.

  1. The incident took place outside of the box, and thus wasn’t a penalty.
  2. Dikgacoi was not the last man, as Delaney was covering.
  3. Young had deviated from the path of the ball and thus it could not be considered a goalscoring opportunity.

Those three things are clear enough, but there is a pretty clear case for a fourth point: Young initiated the contact and thus dived to con the referee into giving the decision for United.

Gary Neville once gave an analysis most University lecturers would be proud of on diving which many of you I am sure have seen. He argues that 95% of attackers, when in the box, are looking for limbs to trip over, and will often move their legs unnaturally towards defenders to make sure of the contact. In instances like the ones he describes, it is both a foul and a dive, as you have to go down to make the foul noticeable to the referee and officials.

In the case of Ashely Young, however, there was no leg to trip him up, and his movement into Dikgacoi was far from natural. When Dikgacoi eventually made the slide tackle, Ashley Young was already most of the way down and the contact had already been initiated by Young. It was cynical, intentional, and effective, but very much unlike what Gary describes in the video. It’s this sort of thing that needs eradicating from the game. But how? There are a number of problems.

At the forefront of this is the difficult job the referees have. His view of the Young-Dikgacoi incident was obscured, because all he will have seen is Dikgacoi’s back and him sliding in on Young (this was probably his downfall in the end, sliding in from behind, even without contact, is asking for trouble). The interpretation of referees is different; for example, a different referee may have sent of Young for a second bookable offense, or just given Dikgacoi a yellow. Steve Parish told 606 that he’d like to see red cards for incidents like this. As good as this idea sounds, what if you give a player a red who was legitimately fouled? What if Tevez had got injured in the tackle in the video AND been sent off for simulation? Hardly just is it?

Secondly, there’s the issue of retrospective action as the leading deterrent against diving. I’m probably going to sound very opinionated here so those who don’t like healthy discussion should stop here. Retrospective action is not the answer. Yes, you can give divers the bans that they warrant, but by Gary’s definition, you’d be giving several retrospective bans every week. Things such as points deductions have also been discussed, but that isn’t going to give relegation-threatened teams their hard-earned points back, is it? It’s still going to leave a bitter taste.

In my opinion, the best way to tackle the diving pandemic is to incorporate some level of technology into the sport. On television broadcasts, we are spoiled with access to replays and analysis referees aren’t, and they need it more than we do. Most premier league grounds will have a large monitor somewhere in the stadium: why not broadcast replays so that everyone can see them including the referees? Alternatively, have a referee or so in the production booth where selected replayed are broadcast to the public and let them see them in there? The only way to correctly make a decision is to make it in real time, and the only way that can be done is allowing referees to access replay technology. Couple this with hefty fines for divers and then we can think about red cards for diving. Then, we can really put to bed something which is plaguing the beautiful game.

Off-topic Mondays: Deadline Day – Clubs and players to watch

Today starts the dawn of a new, weekly post series about all things… non-Championship. I would have done a Championship deadline day piece, but the topic is far too broad to leave the big guns out of it. So here are some players and clubs and players to watch today.

Wigan Athletic

Since Wigan got relegated, everyone was expecting this huge exodus of talent, particularly from midfield. So, who exactly has left Wigan so far? Well, Alcaraz, Kone, and Joel Robles have all departed for pastures blue, Franco di Santo has left on a free, and Figueroa has hot-footed it to Hull. All of their talented midfielders remain contracted to the club, which will please Wigan fans to no end. As a result, I would largely expect a few Premier League clubs to put bids in for their talent as the window nears closure. Everton have seen a £10m move for James McCarthy get flat out rejected, and Newcastle remain interested. Similarly, the rumour is Crystal Palace have had a £2.5m bid for Callum McManaman turned down, but it seems that they have since turned their attentions to Forest’s Adlene Guediora and, perhaps ambitiously (and hopefully flat out not true), Arsenal’s Nicklas Bendtner.

Real Madrid

All the talk surrounding Real Madrid has been about two things: Gareth Bale’s world record move, and deluded United fans thinking Ronaldo will actually return to Old Trafford. For those of you who missed it, Mesut Ozil is on the verge of a move to Arsenal, and Kaka has gone home to AC Milan. The word from Carlo Ancelotti today is that Fabio Coentrao will not be leaving, which personally saddens me because he’s too good to be sat on the bench every weekend, and I’d love to see him in the Premier League (come on Daniel Levy, do the usual). Other names linked with moves away are Angel di Maria, again possibly to Arsenal, and Karim Benzema, though a lack of striking cover may spell the end of any speculation surrounding him.

Newcastle

Joe Kinnear was brought in to sign all the players Alan Pardew needs to push for Europe once again. So far, he’s trolled him by signing QPR striker and previous Newcastle rejector Loic Remy on loan. That surely is some sort of prank. Rumour has it that they were on the verge of signing Aaron Hunt, until Kinnear pronounced his name wrong, and they have since moved on to Charles N’Zogbia… I jest and digress. In all seriousness, Newcastle need some players, any players, and James McCarthy is a linked name. If they don’t bring bodies into the club, expect them to face a very tough season.

Peter Odemwingie

It’s always been interesting to see what happens with this guy ever since he showed up on a London car park with a sign saying “will kick ball for food”, but it looks like he might actually be moving this deadline day around. Cardiff have been given permission to speak to the Nigerian forward and all we can do is pray and hope that it falls through and the drama can continue come January.

The remaining members of the Aston Villa bomb squad

Yeh, they aren’t moving. No one wants them. Stephen Ireland, Shay Given and Charles N’Zogbia and co. will continue to leech Randy Lerner’s money until their contracts expire.

Arsenal

They’ve finally come to life, and they’ve left it very late. Ozil is pretty much a done deal, and more look to be on the way in. Emiliano Viviano from Palermo will join to provide competition for Wojciech Szczesny. Angel Di Maria, Karim Benzema, Demba Ba, Yohan Cabaye have all been linked. And, to my knowledge, they havent been linked with a single defender, which is kind of what they need. Expect an influx of talent.

Spurs

I don’t know why, and I don’t know who. But it’s SPURS. They WILL do something. Rumours are Hulk, Tom Ince, and Coentrao.

Manchester United, Marouane Fellaini, and Shinji Kagawa

Even with Liverpool, Newcastle and Arsenal all around, somehow Manchester United are this seasons soap opera. The fans are getting edgy. The board refuses to deliver. Why didn’t they hijack the Ozil deal? Wouldn’t Christian Eriksen have been the ideal creative midfielder? Why don’t they swoop for Juan Mata, seemingly becoming more and more available? Instead, they’ve gone for Ander Herrera, a player who plied his trade at underperforming Athletic Bilbao last season. £30m is the fee. He’d better be good. Additionally, Moyes seems to be far too focused on a player who doesn’t really fit the United mould: Fellaini. I can understand why, he’s an arial threat, and Moyes knows him well. He is not the answer. He isn’t a creative, natural CAM like a Gotze or an Ozil or an Eriksen. There is however a solution, one that really maddens me that Moyes has ignored…. PLAY KAGAWA. Just play him, he’s one of your best players. He can score, he can create, JUST PLAY HIM. It’s no wonder Dortmund fans are getting antsy, he’s too good to sit on the bench while TOM BLOODY CLEVERLEY plays EVERY GAME and he’s simply not good enough to pull on the red jersey. So David Moyes, you can sign who you like, I don’t care. But please sell Kagawa to a club who actually wants to play him and not waste him for the purpose of marketing in Asia. The rumours are that Dortmund and Atletico Madrid will bid for his signature, but I’ve heard rumours of a Premier League loan to Aston Villa for him… watch this space.

Talking Brighton’s problems, betting, and fantasy league

Brighton in Disarray: why?

Brighton appear to have lost it. The amount of chances they waste each game is staggering, and they don’t seem to be able to piece together a result. My take on it is that they have picked a manager who, although he has had a winning start in Israel, can’t speak English. He has yet to do an interview and although he is learning, clearly there is a language barrier between him and the majority of his squad. Additionally, you have to say that their off-field issues are hurting them. In my opinion, Gus Poyet should never have been sacked, he did a brilliant job and now he’s one of the hottest free agent managers on the market. Now he’s taking legal action, and this doesn’t appear to be going away any time soon for Brighton. A resolution is needed, and fast.

Accumulator

This week, the games have been so hard to predict, because they all seem like even games. I’ve picked these games in hope over expectation, so if you want to pick these, have the belief to match.

  1. Birmingham (home vs Brighton, 17/10)
  2. Wigan (away vs Bournemouth, 23/20)
  3. Burnley (home vs Yeovil, 8/11)
  4. Derby (home vs Leicester, 6/4)
  5. Middlesborough (home vs Blackpool, 11/10)
  6. Huddersfield (away vs Millwall, 9/4)

Fantasy League

The league is set up, so get yourself signed up and make a team!

PIN – 1086261

Accumulator talk, Fantasy League incoming

WIth Wigan and Doncaster not playing their fixture today, predicting this weekend’s fixtures has been somewhat more difficult than last week. The games look much more even sided and any of them can swing either way. Here is what I have gone for this week:

  1. QPR (away vs Huddersfield, 6/5)
  2. Ipswich (home vs Millwall, 11/10)
  3. Charlton (home vs Middlesborough, 6/5)
  4. Watford (home vs Bournemouth, 4/6)
  5. Birmingham (away vs Yeovil, 7/4)
  6. Nottingham Forest (away vs Blackburn, 13/8)

Payout: £122.29

Game to watch: Blackburn vs Nottingham Forest

Both Blackburn and Forest have got the same odds for this one, and both teams I feel need to prove themselves as promotion contenders. Last week, Forest scraped a win at home to Huddersfield and Blackburn snatched a point at Derby. I can see this one easily being a draw as Forest are defensively stronger with the arrival of Kelvin Wilson, but I get the feeling that if Forest want to mount a challenge they will see this as a game they can win and come away with the points.

Game to take a chance on: Derby (away vs Brighton, 3/1)

You get the feeling that this season, Derby will not be so, well, terrible away from Pride Park, and now is as good a time as it ever will be to play Brighton. They are reeling after successive losses to Leeds via a 90th minute goal, and Newport via two extra time goals. Brighton look to be unsettled somewhat, and Oscar Garcia has his work cut out to make things right. I have my reservations about this one, purely based on it being Derby away from home (any other team, I’d take a chance), but if you’re a gambling man, add this one to your accumulator.

Fantasy League incoming

I will be setting up an open Championship Fantasy League so I expect everyone to get down to that one. I’ll give you a few days to scout out your team and I will post the league pin on here in the week.

(all odds taken from Ladbrokes.com)

UPDATE: I won an accumulator

Basically I decided this morning to put a cheeky quid on a few Championship games. I had home wins for QPR, Nottingham Forest and Bournemouth, with away wins for Wigan, Blackpool and Watford. Having got all of those correct, I won £101.77 on only my second accumulator. So I figured I will do one each Championship gameweek, keeping the bet at £1 (adventurous) and sharing with you my picks. Hell, maybe if I’m right again, you could take a few of my tips. I’ll also outline one game a week which you should take a chance on. Until then, I’m off to the pub.

The Championship 2013-14: A Preview

It’s been a while since I last posted for SmokedSammon, and that is not without reason. I have been keeping a very close eye on transfer proceedings as well as managerial changes and current squads in order to compile a complete prediction of the Championship standings. Obviously, it seems far too early to make a valid prediction with a month of transfer window still looming, but I do not want any predictions I make to be warped by the games that take place in August. So, without further ado, here it is.

  1. Wigan Athletic
  2. Nottingham Forest
  3. Reading
  4. Ipswich
  5. Bolton Wanderers
  6. Leicester City
  7. QPR
  8. Leeds United
  9. Brighton and Hove Albion
  10. Burnley
  11. Watford
  12. Derby County
  13. Middlesborough
  14. Bournemouth
  15. Blackburn Rovers
  16. Barnsley
  17. Blackpool
  18. Charlton Athletic
  19. Birmingham City
  20. Doncaster Rovers
  21. Yeovil Town
  22. Huddersfield Town
  23. Sheffield Wednesday
  24. Millwall

Barnsley – 16th

Barnsley finished last season very strongly, and I have a feeling that Flitcroft and co will survive again. Even with the signing of Dale Jennings however, their squad still lacks the quality to push any higher than a mid table finish. They will likely flirt with relegation without being under too much threat of succumbing to the drop.

Birmingham City – 19th

Birmingham haven’t had the best of times this summer. Obviously they have been running on a strict budget, which has led to the sales of Curtis Davies and Nathan Redmond and the bringing in of a number of relatively unproven loanees. Kyle Bartley, Scott Allan and Shane Ferguson will never be able to replace Davies and particularly Redmond, but they all have points to prove to their parent clubs. Their midfield seems to be their strongest area, while signings must be made in defense and particularly attack (Zigic is past his best and Marlon King is never going to stay out of the way of the law; Lee Novak is not good enough to replace either of them). If these things don’t happen, relegation is a possibility but they should have enough to stay up. Some stability upstairs wouldn’t go amiss either.

Blackburn Rovers – 15th

Blackburn Rovers have emerged as the team to take the Football League’s unneeded mantle of the “Newcastle of the Championship”. They went through managers quicker than Taylor Swift goes through boyfriends last season. And it wasn’t cheap – one big payout to Henning Berg and severance handed out to Steve Kean and Michael Appleton, and now the relative unknown Gary Bowyer, who has been constant throughout the revolving door that is management at Blackburn, takes the reigns. Jordan Rhodes will get the goals, we know that, but clearly something is missing from this side elsewhere on the pitch, otherwise they’d be pushing higher. More goals from midfield and some defensive discipline should be what the doctor would prescribe alongside a complete reshuffle of the directing staff and some new owners (not too much to ask for). Problem is, the signings of Alex Marrow, Alan Judge and Matt Kilgallon aren’t exactly inspiring, so more investment needed here.

Blackpool -17th

Paul Ince has done his number 1 job this summer: retain Tom Ince and Matt Phillips. He’s signed Michael Chopra, a relatively reliable source of goals. He has a long way to go yet though, and I see 17th place as an accurate place for them to finish. They may well have a blinding start to the season but their lack of numbers, particularly at the back, will catch up to them, and they may rely far too heavily on their wingers for goals, assists and, well, everything.

Bolton Wanderers – 5th

I had pencilled in Bolton to finish second and gain automatic promotion. What changed, you ask? That second place was dependent on one player staying away from the physio: Stuart Holden. A player who is much better than the Championship has suffered another knee injury that will likely keep him out for must of the season. It’s a shame really, as Holden really is a gifted player. Dougie has moved to replace him with former Palace signing Andre Moritz, but he just doesn’t have the fitness of Holden. Beckford will provide increased firepower in the absence of Kevin Davies, but the play-offs may be the best bet without Holden.

Bournemouth – 14th

I think Bournemouth will surprise a few people this season. Bankrolled by a Russian and managed by Eddie Howe, I see them consolidating themselves in the division before pushing on next season. Howe and Bournemouth seem to be an unbeatable combination, and with Matt Ritchie and Danny Pugh setting up old favourite Brett Pitman, it’s only up from here for Bournemouth.

Brighton and Hove Albion – 9th

Still suffering the consequences of a failed play-off hangover, Gus Poyet has finally, and rather unceremoniously, been stripped of his position as manager of Brighton. I find it hard to believe that they will recover from the events of their off-season to fight for promotion. Retaining Liam Bridcutt has thus far been a success, and Craig Mackail-Smith returns having missed the end of last season. Other than that, not a lot has changed aside from the manager, and that will be their downfall this season.

Burnley – 10th

Sean Dyche has been quietly building a decent squad at Burnley. In my opinion, Tom Heaton is one of the better signings this season, in the Championship and beyond. The recent sale of Charlie Austin means that Danny Ings will get his chance to prove himself as the next promising striker in the division, and if he does, it could be a very profitable season.

Charlton Athletic – 18th

Charlton ended last season as the Championship’s in form side, to many people’s surprise. The form of Yann Kermorgant has been pivotal in this, and Charlton will need more of the same from him. Chris Powell has instilled a winning mentality in the squad, in much the same way that Brian McDermott did at Reading. However, I feel their squad is lacking in quality, and recent signings Simon Church and Marvin Sordell do not address that, simply because they don’t score enough. The release of Scott Wagstaff, in my opinion, is one of the biggest mistakes of the window, and they will have a fight on their hands to keep hold of Chris Solly. Expect a season which tails off come Boxing Day.

Derby County – 12th

Fantastic at home. Terrible away. No one can quite put their finger on the form problems that plague Derby County. Rams fans will be praying that forward Johnny Russell is the answer to their homesickness. In fact, they have made great business this summer. John Eustace and Craig Forsyth add strength to the squad, while Adam Smith arrives on loan to attempt to fill the gaping hole left by best player John Brayford. They will struggle without him season. On the whole though, I don’t expect their away day pain to go away with any amount of painkillers. It’s been a problem throughout Clough’s reign, so why would it suddenly change now?

Doncaster Rovers – 20th

They have just signed a guy from One Direction. I had hope for Doncaster with investment pending, but what hope I had has since evaporated. A club more interested in publicity stunts than squad investment has got it all wrong. As such, with the investment incoming, which means players, I expect them to be down there all season unless they start taking themselves more seriously.

Huddersfield Town – 22nd

They struggled big time for goals without Jordan Rhodes leading the line, and now they have lost Lee Novak without replacement. Their midfield is very strong though, especially with the signing of Johnathan Hogg, so maybe a formation with 5 in midfield would suit them. Their defense lacks depth though, and if they want to survive at least 2 more defenders are needed. Mark Robins is a steady hand, but at this stage the only way is down.

Ipswich – 4th

They had already made their best signing in Mick McCarthy last season. He knows what it takes to get them out of the division, which should be the aim for Ipswich with the squad and funds at their disposal. He’s brought in old Wolves player Christophe Berra and Cole Skuse to hold in midfield. Last seasons signings will have had time to settle as well, and I reckon, given the board’s willingness to give their managers time to develop a squad, and maybe another striker, they will be a force this season. The rise of Josh Carson won’t hurt, either.

Leeds United – 8th

Everyone’s least favourite team appears to be on the rise unfortunately. Luke Murphy is possibly the signing of the season, and this coupled with the rise of Dominic Poleon to first team prominence should catapult Leeds to play-off contention. However, I do feel like they lack a good pair of wingers. Ross McCormack should be played centrally, and Paul Green and Luke Varney aren’t exactly assist machines with great wingplay. As a result, I’m putting them down to miss out, just.

Leicester City – 6th

They’ve been there or thereabouts for a few seasons now, but they’ve not made it to the finals of the play-offs. And that’s something that’s quite hard to diagnose. Three years ago, they had Yann Kermorgant’s ridiculous Panenka effort to thank for that, but last season was different. They had one foot there and gave Troy Deeney an opening after a grueling 97 minutes of football. I think they will make the play-offs again regardless, but one has to start thinking how far Nigel Pearson can take them now. The tools are all there, time to deliver.

Middlesborough – 13th

Never have I seen a team tail off so badly after Christmas like Middlesborough did. Fighting for automatic early on, they were fearing relegation after a record of 3 wins, 3 draws, and FIFTEEN losses in 2013. Maybe it was a combination of nerves and inexperience – after all, the team is largely comprised of youth. Dean Whitehead brings buckets of experience though, but not much quality. Other than him, it’s been a slow off-season for Boro. They need to start doing some business, particularly the signing of some defensive cover. I would also suggest more prominently featuring Marvin Emnes, because he is much better than the bench he warms weekly. I don’t see this happening though, so mid-table again for Mowbray’s men.

Millwall – 24th

There just isn’t enough to this side. Super Millwall from The Den are a team that relies heavily on grinding results out through resilience and hard-work. My concern is that Steve Lomas won’t continue this philosophy ingrained by Kenny Jackett. The quality just isn’t there to do anything else. Without Jackett I think Millwall will struggle to finish 22nd, let alone 21st. They lack fire power and midfield creativity. Henry and Trotter are solid wingers, and everything seems fine at the back, but scoring goals could be a real issue. Expects lots of 1-0 losses.

Nottingham Forest – 2nd

Surprised? I can’t think why you would be. Billy Davies knows how to get this club up the table. If it wasn’t for the sheer quality of Newcastle and West Brom a few years back, they’d have been promoted very easily. It’s been all change since he left though; now bankrolled by Al-Hasawi, he has the cash at his disposal to sign great players at this level. He has Sean O’Driscoll’s old signings like Simon Cox and Simon Gillett fully settled, and he himself has signed Jamie Mackie (which is a quality signing), Djamel Abdoun, Gonzalo Jara, Eric Lichaj, Jack Hobbs, and record clean sheet holder at Swansea Dorus de Vries. Business has been the strongest of any side, they’ve cured their defensive cover issues, and I expect that to translate into a very very strong season that will see them sneak into 2nd spot and a shot at the Premier League.

QPR – 7th

Clearly the strongest squad in the division. Probably the best manager as well. Still no play-offs? Stats on paper are just stats on paper. These players are still the same bunch of overpaid slouches that got the team relegated last season under the same manager. Yes, Redknapp now has a pre-season under his belt. This doesn’t change their wages does it? Hopefully most of them will leave so ‘Arry can rebuild, pronto. Maybe buying Mackie back will help too. Currently though, they have the ability to dazzle and disappoint too, perhaps one too many times.

Reading – 3rd

Reading have relied on team spirit in the past to get them wins. I don’t expect this to change under Adkins, who is also one of those managers who knows how to instill positive squad mentality. Amazingly, they’ve also managed to hang on to their best players thus far as well, whilst also acquiring Royston Drenthe to provide assists and a major attacking threat. I fully expect all championship defenses to be trembling in the wake of Pogrebnyak and ALF, and whilst I don’t think they are good enough at the back to get automatic promotion (remember Southampton’s defense last season?), promotion through the play-offs looks very likely.

Sheffield Wednesday – 23rd

Like Millwall, I’m not convinced that Wednesday have a good enough first team to stay afloat this season. The signings they have made are unproven, and in the case of Atdhe Nuhiu, not even prolific. They relied very heavily on high-profile loanees for success last season: it brought them nothing. They’re going to go down, or at least be scrapping at the bottom all season. I’d also place money on Dave Jones being the first manager sacked, because even with a squad full of big names last season, he achieved literally nothing with them.

Watford – 11th

Watford suffered in the play-off final last season because they lacked a certain Matej Vydra upfront. They seemed toothless without him, and while Troy Deeney has been in fine form, will it continue? And can Forestieri step up to the plate? Aside from that, they’ve brought in the same Pozzo bunch that played last season for good this time, and additionally Lewis McGugan. While not a regular last season, he’s still a goal threat. However, essentially these are the same players that every team is now more accustomed to playing against minus top scoring Vydra, and as a result they will push for the playoffs but fall short.

Wigan Athletic – 1st

Shock, Wigan to finish top. Anyone who bets against this is an idiot. Best squad on the PITCH, not paper necessarily, but on the pitch, where it matters. They’ve managed to keep hold of coveted midfield trio Shaun Maloney, Callum McManaman and James McCarthy for now, whilst replacing Arouna Kone with cult hero Grant Holt and signing James Perch, Thomas Rogne, Leon Barnett, Stephen Crainey and Juan Carlos Garcia to add some serious depth to what was a terrible defense last season. Chris McCann enters the midfield and Marc Antoine Fortune adds to the frontline. If anything, they’ve left the Premier League with a better squad, and should really have no problems obliterating all other teams in the division, unless Owen Coyle’s rumoured lack of tactical savvy prevents this.

Yeovil Town 21st

Let’s face it, neutrals will be supporting one team and one team only: Gary Johnson’s Yeovil Town. The ultimate away day. The underdogs. the surprise package. And I think they’ll surprise everyone by staying up – JUST. Let’s face it, even with some good signings like Alan Tate, they lack quality all over the pitch barring the strikeforce of Paddy Madden and James Hayter, who will both keep Yeovil up this year. They will have to rely on Gary’s famed opposition scouting, team and fan spirit, and a little bit of luck, but I can see them surviving.

Royston Drenthe is a real coup for Reading – if they can manage him

6 years ago, a young Dutchman with heaps of potential and ability secured a dream move from hometown club Feyenoord to Real Madrid. Such was his talent, he commanded a £12m fee. I say he secured fairly confidently; Feyenoord didn’t want to let him go, and Drenthe threatened legal action if the door to Spain was shut in his face.

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That string of words safely summarises Drenthe as a player and a person: he can play, but he has a temper with a fuse not too long.

To put it bluntly, Drenthe has the ability to tear the Championship apart. I mean that. We’ve seen it from his time spent on loan at Everton, his ability to create as well as score is undoubted, where he scored 4 and assisted 8. Had he not reported late for training in March 2012 and had his season cut short, he would have been one of Everton’s best and most consistent performers. But that’s the issue: he reported late for training. Under David Moyes. It something you just simply do not do. He didn’t play another game all season. And that isn’t the only time he’s had run-ins with management. When he was on loan at Herucles, he more or less put himself out of squad contention after claiming the management wasn’t up to scratch. Sometimes, as a player, especially one who is very very expendable like Drenthe was, it’s best just to play your game, know your role, and shut your mouth. And yet he couldn’t. While at Real Madrid, he suffered from anxiety issues caused by criticism from the crowd, and he reacted very poorly, requesting the next few games off. Hardly the most professional response.

Drenthe’s strong yet strangely fragile personality is an obstacle Nigel Adkins must overcome if he is to get the best out of him. We all know he has the ability, and is a missing link most Championship clubs can only dream of having in their midfield. Reading, while gutsy and spirited, lack quality, especially at centre back and creatively in midfield: Drenthe addressed the creativity problem. Adkins and co must be careful with him though or risk setting him off. Look at a player like Mario Balotelli; he couldn’t keep his name out of the papers at City, now he’s a much more subdued character at Milan.

It’s going to be very interesting from a fan’s perspective to see how Drenthe’s stay at Reading pans out. Will he slide right into the squad and settle? Will he be the sharp blade that provides Reading’s cutting edge? Or will he polarise opinion, spout criticism of his colleagues, and unsettle the dressing room that Reading have spent so long bringing together? Only time will tell.