5 Ways Football This Season Is Going To Differ From Any Other

1. A big name will go down

By big name, I certainly don’t mean Chelsea, but there are a number of Premier League mainstays who could see their status threatened.

The biggest of these is Southampton, who have had a tepid start to the season at best. They were dumped unceremoniously out of the Europa League, and have garnered an unwanted reputation as a stepping stone club, due to the turnover of high-profile players.

It can’t be understated how much damage has been done to this squad, and how much can still be done. The table below details their key outgoings and replacements over the last two seasons.

Last season’s replacements performed admirably, but replacing Clyne, Schneiderlin and Alderweireld is much more difficult. While Soares and Clasie looks like capable players, Steven Caulker has spent the last two seasons being relegated, which is never a good thing. Defending will be a massive problem for them, particularly when you consider the team’s lack of pace.

Notably, they struggle to retain players who are theirs to sign. A deal for Toby Alderweireld should have been discussed as early as the January window; instead, his loan finished and Tottenham flexed their financial muscles to bring him to White Hart Lane. As much as they want to complain, it’s their own fault.

And with Victor Wanyama and Sadio Mane linked with moves to Spurs and Manchester United respectively, the transfer window couldn’t close soon enough.

Aston Villa can consider themselves lucky to still be one of seven clubs to have played in every Premier League season since its inception. Since the departure of Martin O’Neill, the club has endured season upon season of abject mediocrity that has seen them progressively slide closer to the relegation zone over time.

How Paul Lambert survived in the job as long as he did is a mystery. Over three seasons, I can only remember one time where they played well – the 3-1 win over Arsenal on the first day of the 2013-14 season.

Tim Sherwood has come in and at least turned them into a side that poses a goal threat, but they still lack creativity in general.

The likes of West Bromwich Albion and Newcastle will also be nervously peering over their shoulders.

2. A home away from home

We’re only into the fourth week of the season, and already this has happened.

Perhaps a little under the radar, football is undergoing a paradigm shift psychologically. Only 33% of all wins this season have been at home, and only undefeated Manchester City can boast a 100% record on their turf. Meanwhile, the Sky Blues, Crystal Palace, Arsenal and West Ham all have 100% away records. Of those, West Ham are yet to score a point at home, and Arsenal have recorded a draw and a loss.

Even though the season is still in its infancy, your team is statistically more likely to win at someone else’s ground. Even looking down to the Championship, the data from this season compared to last suggests a decline in home wins by around 10%.

This is down to a few things. Firstly, football fans have become increasingly fickle and vocal, demanding managers be sacked and players be dropped after a couple of bad results. In other words, patience is dead, and home fans are poisonous to players.

Secondly, the influx of attacking talent from abroad has led to more teams going for the win away from home, as opposed to grinding out a result. For example, Crystal Palace’s 2-1 victory over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge (Mourinho’s second loss in 100 Chelsea home games) came courtesy of fast, powerful attacking play.

Finally, the quality of defending has declined. Most teams seem to be short of one or two quality defenders. Chelsea lack pace. Liverpool and Sunderland lack composure. Arsenal lack physicality. Manchester City seem to be the only resolute team out there, and after last season that is some achievement for them.

We live in an age where West Ham can concede four goals against newly-promoted Bournemouth at Upton Park, and score three and keep a clean sheet at Anfield against a side with a front three of Roberto Firmino, Phillipe Coutinho and Christian Benteke. Strange as this is, it’ll be the norm for this season.

3. A dramatic January transfer window

Clubs haven’t been afraid to open their TV money vaults this summer. And if things aren’t working out, you can bet that they’ll do it again.

I’m probably alone when I say this, but I think the January transfer window needs to be completely overhauled. All it does is allow clubs to steal players who are performing well for other clubs, which isn’t right. If a club needs to sort out a position, it should be done in the summer, and if it isn’t done, the club should suffer the consequences. Maximally, a limited transfers window, swap window or loan window would be necessary. I also believe that the summer window should start on the 1st of June and finish at the end of July. Clubs sign players before the start of the current window anyway. On top of that, we wouldn’t be having these issues surrounding England’s best young players like John Stones and Saido Berahino, where they are expected to play well while surrounded by intense media speculation.

That said, the current situation is that there is a winter window. We’ve seen some big movers in the past; Juan Mata and Fernando Torres being the most memorable and controversial. This season, we may not see more in the way of big money moves, but plenty of mid-range, £10m-£20m deals.

4. Falling giants

Crystal Palace claiming the scalp of Chelsea will set in motion a number of surprise results to come.

Chelsea has been a magnet for negative attention due to their appalling start to the season. Jose Mourinho’s management of the team has been really poor; he’s too focused on starting fights with everyone around him, rather than kicking Branislav Ivanovic into gear, or onto the bench.

Tottenham must be thanking them, because they’ve been even worse and no one seems to be picking up on it. Their key issue is a lack of leadership. Their player and manager never look comfortable when in a winning position, so naturally they throw results away. Ledley King, despite his cartilage-free knees, had qualities Spurs are yet to replace.

Similarly, Arsenal have toiled their way to a miraculous seven points, Liverpool look completely toothless and Manchester United, despite all the money they’ve spent on players, still play a laboured, pedestrian style, which is fine if you want a catalog of boring, uninspiring 1-0 and 0-0 games.

Only Manchester City look like a title-winning team so far. The rest look just as beatable as any other team.

It’s not outside the realms of possibility for a team like Swansea to assume a top five position, or even push for the Champions League places.

And it’s just as easy to see Tottenham record their first bottom half finish since 2008. Again, unlikely, but not impossible.

5. Poor refereeing will put in motion revolutionary changes

Already this weekend, we’ve seen five red cards. Of those red cards, none of them were cut and dry.

Mitrovic’s 16th minute red card could have been a yellow with a different official. The two red cards in the Liverpool vs West Ham game were farcical, while Stoke can consider themselves hacked off for the inconsistency shown by the referee who sent Afellay off for a slap, when Robert Huth saw a yellow for punching a guy in the face. Charlie Adam’s stamp is the most red of the red cards, but that’s still more of a deep orange.

How long can football go on like this? Games are being ruined by these decisions. West Brom should still be in search of a first win. Those three points could keep them up.

With decisions like this set to continue (and probably get worse), there will either be riots or a major rule change. Could it be video review technology? Could it be a challenge system, as seen in tennis? Could it be extra officials? A second referee? No referee? Or just free-for-all carnage?

Surely anything is better than this.


A SmokedSammon Prediction-Based Preview of the Premier League Season

Happy new football season everyone!

And what a season we have in store for us. With the rise of the multi-billion pound television deal, English clubs have really been able to flex their financial muscles, even those considered to be way down the pecking order. Even looking down into the championship, Middlesbrough’s recent £14m bid for Jordan Rhodes demonstrates that we could be entering a new, different era for football on the Isles.

Every team has been throwing money at their problems, desperately trying to out-marquee-signing each other.

It’s brilliant to bear witness to. Is it economically healthy? Probably not.

With that in mind, it’s time to preview what is set to be a defining Premier League season.

What key questions do each team need to answer?

Arsenal – Can they mount a legitimate title challenge this year?

Towards the end of last season, Arsenal looked like title contenders in terms of their form and performances. That’s exactly the issue though.

For the last decade, they have been unable to sustain title winning form over an entire season. They will have a patch of form where they look invincible, but they will also go through a period of average performances and mediocre results. In last season’s case, they started badly.

This season, they need to assert their authority and quality over the teams immediately below them in the table. No more losses to the likes of Swansea and Spurs.

Additionally, firepower to go alongside Olivier Giroud wouldn’t go amiss. He’s been clamoring for more competition upfront, and with Welbeck inconsistent in front of goal, an additional 20 goal a season striker is required for them to push for the title.

Signing Petr Cech is fantastic business, though, and finally puts to rest a goalkeeping dilemma that has been a major issue since Jens Lehmann first left the club.

Player to watch: Mesut Ozil

Aston Villa – Will their French Revolution mirror Newcastle’s?

The Villans have reinvested the money from the sale of Benteke, but have they invested wisely?

From the outside, it seems like they have taken a lot of risks, none less risky than the £12m signing of Jordan Ayew. While only 23, his goalscoring record does not suggest he will be a capable replacement for the big Belgian. 12 goals in 29 games, while solid, isn’t enough to justify that kind of fee.

Additionally, Tactics Tim has decided that a dip into the French market, which is something we saw with Newcastle United in the 2012-13 season. Where did they finish? 16th. A lot will be expected of Idrissa Gueye, Jordan Amavi and Jordan Veretout early as they replace key figures like Fabian Delph in their first team.

Rudy Gestede looks like a solid piece of business. If he can carry his Championship form from the past two seasons into the Premier League, he could be one of the signings of the season.

Player to watch: Rudy Gestede

AFC Bournemouth – Will they live up to their “surprise package” title?

“Everyone loves a feel good story”. Apparently, Bournemouth is that story.

While their rise to the top flight has been nothing short of miraculous and meteoric, it’s easy to forget that they have been bankrolled by the incredibly wealthy Maxim Demin since 2011. With great achievement comes great financial backing.

That financial backing has shown its face already, with 16-goal Max Gradel joining the most promising attack of all the promoted teams. A lot of their season will depend on Callum Wilson, who was incredibly prolific in the Championship and has the pace to cause problems in the Premier League. Sylvan Distin is an excellent signing, bringing experience and fortitude to a young back line.

Tyrone Mings for £8m was a strange deal. He’s a player more well known for his random acts of kindness than his on pitch performances. Their money could have been invested more wisely across their entire squad instead of on an unproven commodity.

Even with their spending, they still remain the potential surprise package of the division. Perhaps not surprising enough to breach the upper echelons of the mid table, but definitely good enough to stay up under Eddie Howe’s management.

Player to watch: Max Gradel

Chelsea – Will a lack of strengthening hurt their title defence?

With those around them spending, Chelsea have been somewhat quiet, mainly because they have so few issues to address after a dominating season.

Defensive cover is firmly on the agenda though, with a new left back a priority after the sale of Filipe Luis. John Stones has been heavily linked with a move, much to the chagrin of Bobby Martinez.

In general though, they remain the team to beat, and still have easily the best squad in the division. Their only real issue of note is Diego Costa, who struggled to remain fit last season. If he can remain healthy, they should have no problem defending their title this season.

Player to watch: Eden Hazard

Crystal Palace – Where will the goals come from?

Palace are a team that have no right to be a solid mid table side, but after 11th and 10th place finishes in their two top flight seasons, people firmly believe that they are now a Premier League mainstay.

And nothing punctuated that notion more than the shock signing of Yohan Cabaye, which acts more as a statement of intent to their rivals over anything else.

The spine of the team is strong, especially with Scott Dann signing a new deal. They also have some of the best wide options in the division, with highly-rated Bakary Sako joining Yannick Bolasie and Wilfried Zaha. Menacing.

What isn’t menacing is their striking options. £9m for Conor Wickham is excessive at best and bone-headed at worst. If he has any potential left, he needs to show it this season, or Palace may have to rely on Dwight Gayle (who for some reason never seems to get a look despite his impressive goalscoring record) and Patrick Bamford, signed on loan from Chelsea. A lot is expected of the Championship Player of the Year; will the pressure get the better of him? And can Alan Pardew finally prove that he is a quality manager?

Player to watch: Bakary Sako

Everton – Was last season’s slump a one-off?

Everton were unfortunate last season. Romelu Lukaku was one of the most disappointing players of the season, and they only started picking up the pace in the last third of the season.

A lot of this was down to Roberto Martinez’s one-dimensional tactics. The season before, they narrowly missed out on Champions League football; a lot of this down to the extraordinary form of their full-backs, Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman. Last season, they were much quieter.

They got found out. Teams set up to prevent their swashbuckling play. The quieter the wide threat was, the less potent Everton were.

In addition, they were surprisingly leaky, shipping 50 Premier League goals. With Distin gone and Stones unsettles, they need defensive reinforcements and fast.

I expect this season to be much better, though. Martinez is still a young manager, and will have learned from last season. The return of Gerard Deulofeu is huge, and could provide the impetus needed for a top-half return.

Player to watch: Gerard Deulofeu

Leicester City – Can Ranieri keep them up?


Leicester City are in complete disarray. Their situation has a lot of the qualities of Palace at this point last year.

They lost a manager that kept them in the division. For reasons only known to Leicester’s owners, Nigel Pearson was axed after performing miracles last season. The likelihood is that Pearson Junior’s hanky-panky antics with a couple of his fellow players, all laced with a few spoonfuls of racial discrimination, had something to do with his position becoming untenable.

Similarly, they seem to have missed out on a number of their transfer targets. Christian Fuchs and Shinji Okazaki are the two that stand out, but they have failed to replace the influential Esteban Cambiasso, who is set to be a huge miss.

Finally, they both hired past-it, out of touch managers. While not nearly as bad as the man lovingly dubbed Colin Wanker, Claudio Ranieri hasn’t managed a Premier League side since 2004. Since then, his record has been checkered, with the biggest blot on the copybook coming courtesy of a horrific four month spell as Greece manager, where he led them to two losses to the Faroe Islands. Yeh, that tiny place in the North Sea.

At least they retained Robert Huth, who Stoke have let go in favour of more techincally-gifted defenders. Even so, his presence is fearsome and leadership qualities undeniable.

Player to watch: Shinji Okazaki

Liverpool – Can they become a top four mainstay again?

The stars say… maybe?

It’s between them and the two Manchester clubs for the last two Champions League places. Last season was one they would rather forget; they just never really got going. Instead, the season served the function of being one ten-month long testimonial for Steven Gerrard, who was sent off in style with humiliating losses to Crystal Palace and Stoke City.

They’ve had a few pounds to spend following the £49m sale of Raheem Sterling to Manchester City, and have invested some of that money shrewdly. Big money was spent on highly-rated Roberto Firmino, who they are looking to to fill the hole left by Sterling. Christian Benteke comes in to solve their striking issues. With Daniel Sturridge seemingly never fit, they needed someone much better than Balotelli, and Benteke fits the bill. Their attack was bullied last season, not any more.

The rest of the team has been padded out by free transfers in James Milner and Danny Ings, while Divock Origi returns following a loan spell at Lille. Suddenly, they look like a threat again.

Their defence, unfortunately for them, is still awful. The addition of Clyne is brilliant, but at centre back, nothing has been added to a notoriously error-prone selection. They’d better hope they score much more than they concede, but it should still make for some great matches.

Player to watch: Roberto Firmino

Manchester City – How will their aging squad cope this season?

This season will be something of a transitional one for The Sky Blues.

With a lack of English talent amongst their ranks, their transfer policy has been heavily focused on luring English talent to the Etihad, whatever the price. This is the only explanation for forking out £49m for someone like Raheem Sterling. Fabian Delph is cheap and reliable, but not a top 4 player. Patrick Roberts from Fulham was a signing out of nowhere.

Their squad is getting older as well. Yaya Toure is declining as a force to be reckoned with, and the likes of Pablo Zabaleta and Gael Clichy are no longer as potent going forward as they once were.

Their attacking options outside of Sergio Aguero are weak after the sales of Stefan Jovetic and Edin Dzeko, with a misfiring Wilfried Bony and 18-year-old Enes Unal their only other options. Signing Kevin de Bruyne for £60m isn’t going to solve this given that Aguero is relatively injury prone.

City are the club in biggest danger of losing their top four status.

Player to watch: David Silva

Manchester United – Will their latest signings come off?

Last summer, The Red Devils were making headlines with big money signings like Luke Shaw, Falcao and Angel Di Maria. A revolution was afoot.

Fast-forward 12 months, and both di Maria and Falcao have gone. For whatever reason, it didn’t work out.

Still, they made the top 4, which was their primary goal, so mission accomplished on that front. Pushing on should be their target this season, given that they have had to rebuild again.

Despite the £30m pricetag, Memphis Depay could turn out to be the best signing of any club in the world this season if he performs well. He’s versatile, powerful and a great finisher, so hopefully he can be the one to ease the goalscoring burden that lays firmly on the shoulders of Wayne Rooney.

Speaking of Rooney, he will no longer have to cover in midfield, as they have finally solved their problems by signing Bastian Schweinsteiger and Morgan Schneiderlin to compliment Daley Blind, Michael Carrick and Marouane Fellaini.

Another problem area, right-back, has been sorted as well, with Matteo Darmian arriving to replace the departing Rafael. With his versatility, he can also fill in across the backline if needed.

However, their inability to sign a centre back defies belief. Currently, they are pursuing Pedro, who would serve as nothing more than a luxury. They should be actively looking to sign a defender. Instead, they are holding out hope that Sergio Ramos will form part of a swap deal for David de Gea, which seems a bit unrealistic with neither party willing to budge.

Despite this, a top three finish looks to be on the cards this season.

Player to watch: Memphis Depay

Newcastle United – Can Steve McClaren rebuild his reputation further?

Forget Bournemouth as the surprise package. It’s Newcastle who you should be keeping tabs on.

Under John Carver, they were hugely underwhelming last season, and should have been nowhere near the relegation places. Their squad is much better than that.

They’ve not made many signings this season, but the ones they have look the part. Heading up their trifecta of signings is Aleksandar Mitrovic, who is developing into a very complete striker. He’s also, coincidentally, genuinely passionate about Newcastle United. He’s been a fan of the Toon since watching a Champions League game between Partizan Belgrade and Newcastle in 2003, and looks up to the quintessential No. 9 Alan Shearer as his idol.

Joining the big man at St. James’ Park are Georginio Wijnaldum, who was impressive for PSV last season, and fellow Anderlecht alumni Chancel Mbemba, who is a powerful imposing centre back. So, much better than Mike Williamson then, despite his lack of date of birth.

Steve McClaren himself went a long way to rebuilding his reputation in England with an impressive spell at Derby County, where he was unlucky not to achieve promotion in his first season. Unfortunately, last season ended in disaster. They looked like a shoe in for at least the top end of the playoffs all season before a dramatic late season slump saw them finish in a lowly 8th place.

With his reputation just about intact, he still has a lot to prove, especially to the highly volatile Toon support.

Player to watch: Remy Cabella

Norwich City – Will a compact, resolute setup be enough to keep them up?

Norwich were the best outfit in the Championship in the second half of last season, and their momentum carried them to playoff glory.

The good thing about bouncing back immediately after a relegation is that a number of the players that played in the Premier League are still there, notably the likes of Johnny Howson and John Ruddy.

Alex Neil has turned Norwich into a side that is very tough to break down, and they will be heavily reliant on their home form to survive. Their transfer business has been good as well, signing proven Premier League quality on the cheap, with the exception of Robbie Brady.

Their issue is similar to Crystal Palace’s in that their striking options are limited to the untested Lewis Grabban and the tried and tested failure that is Cameron Jerome, who is a Championship level player. Ricky van Wolfswinkel has returned to little fanfare, while Gary Hooper hasn’t been able to reproduce his best form. If they can bring in another striker, one who is  a proven outlet for goals, they should be fine.

Player to watch: Johnny Howson

Southampton – Can they build on last season despite more losses?

Southampton have seen all their best players leave over the last year or so, but have been able to replace them with cheaper, better players.

Rickie Lambert was replaced by Graziano Pelle, Adam Lallana by Dusan Tadic, Luke Shaw by Ryan Bertrand and Dejan Lovren by Toby Alderweireld. This summer, they’ve had to do it again.

Morgan Schneiderlin will be a huge loss, by Jordy Clasie is a very capable replacement to slot in alongside Wanyama. Nathaniel Clyne will be missed, but the highly-touted Cedric Soares will provide a great option there. Toby Alderweireld is also a huge miss. Unfortunately, Steven Caulker is far from the man to fill his boots after successive relegations in teams with dreadful defensive records.

Overall, it’s going to be a hard season for The Saints. While a top half finish is a given, they can’t expect this season to bring the successes of last season, especially with the demands of the Europa League too.

Player to watch: Jordy Clasie

Stoke City – Will a less physical approach bring them European Football?

It’s official: the Stoke of old is dead.

Gone are the days of Rory Delap long throws, leg-breaking challenges and bloody physicality. Enter the Hughes era of pace and power combined with finesse, flair and skill.

The departure of Steven N’Zonzi marked the end of a stylistic transformation that has been taking place. That transformation is finally complete.

Nothing accentuates this more than the signing of Ibrahim Afellay, last seen warming the physio’s table at Barcelona between loan spells at Olympiakos and PSV, but has the flair and technique that Stoke now look for when recruiting players.

Filling the N’Zonzi-shaped hole is Chelsea outcast Marco van Ginkel. Robert Huth has been replaced by Philipp Wollscheid.

The issue here is that what made them a success last season was a combination of class and physicality. Now that the physical side of things is nearly gone, are Stoke going to be the ones who get bullied?

Player to watch: Bojan

Sunderland – Is their luck finally up?


Their transfer business hasn’t been great, for a start. Nothing really stands out as an inspired transfer.

Secondly, they have developed a habit of not being able to win games. Last season, they drew 17 games, winning only 7. They’re resolute, but dreadful going forward.

Finally, they don’t seem to have any character. They became famous last season for their ability to spontaneously capitulate at any given moment. Nothing highlights this more than Santiago Vergini’s exquisite own goal against Southampton. After that, they conceded six more goals.

They’ve been living on borrowed time for a while. The perennial survivors surely cannot survive again.

Player to watch: Jeremain Lens

Swansea – Just how good are they?

Last season’s mid table was bizarre. Anyone could beat anyone, and no one was particularly consistent. Swansea took full advantage of this, and nearly claimed an unlikely Europa League spot.

Garry Monk has built an excellent side. Gylfi Sigurdsson was one of the signing of last season, and Jefferson Montero was a standout winger. When Wilfried Bony left, Bafetimbi Gomis stepped up well. Outside of de Gea and Courtois, Lukasz Fabianski was probably the best goalkeeper in the division.

This season, they’ve made the signing of the summer in Andre Ayew on a free transfer, despite interest from bigger clubs, such is the power of the TV deal. In addition, Franck Tabanou is a solid signing to compete with Neil Taylor at left back. Eder from Braga is a dumb signing, as he is just a worse Gomis. Overall, they look like a side that could spring more surprises like last year.

Don’t expect this season to be like last season for Swansea, though. The mid-table is hyper competitive this year, and with Everton expected to be much better this year, holding a place in the top half should be their aim.

Player to watch: Andre Ayew

Tottenham Hotspur – Will they drop out of Champions League contention?


Signing a new defence was a priority, and they have done that well. Toby Alderweireld will likely partner Jan Vertonghen, with Kevin Wimmer providing solid cover. Kieran Trippier is an excellent signing at right-back and a player with much better upside and fitness than Kyle Walker.

However, everything in front of them looks surprisingly weak. They were already reliant on Christian Eriksen and Harry Kane, and it looks like they still will be. They haven’t signed anyone to ease the pressure on Kane, nor have they acquired anyone creative to accompany Eriksen. The wide areas of the squad look thin; while Chadli proved himself to be a great player at this level last season, Erik Lamela and Andros Townsend did not. It wouldn’t be a surprise if the previously exiled Aaron Lennon actually starts ahead of them, or even DeAndre Yedlin.

In central midfield, the losses of Paulinho, Etienne Capoue and Benjamin Stambouli have left them threadbare, with just Ryan Mason, Nabil Bentaleb and Mousa Dembele available.

They seem to have lost out big time this window, and as a result, the squad they have is too thin to compete on all fronts. They shouldn’t worry the top four this season.

Player to watch: Nabil Bentaleb

Watford – Will the new signings gel?

Watford remind me of QPR. That’s not a good thing, by the way. In fact, that’s a terrible thing.

In the Premier League solely because of the transfers they were able to make via their links to Udinese and Grenada, they’ve only gone and added yet more talent for expensive fees.

Language barrier issues are set to be a huge problem. They have Italians, Germans, Frenchmen, Swiss, Czech, Greek, Uruguayan, Spanish… how can Quique Flores expect them to gel.

They could be easy pickings early on this season while they all adapt to each other. We’ve seen time and time again that signing multiple players from different places never works out well. This will cost Watford in the long run.

Player to watch: Matej Vydra

West Bromwich Albion – How far can Tony Pulis take them?

Teeps did what he was asked to, and kept West Brom out of trouble.

This season, the same thing will be on the agenda.

But we know Pulis will keep his side up. The big question is, can they surprise anyone?

It’s possible, but unlikely. They’re a step behind those above them, and will likely be duking it out with Aston Villa in the lower mid-table. Still, they’re a Pulis side, so it’s always possible that they could get some shock results at The Hawthorns.

Their transfer window has been relatively quiet, but the big signing is undoubtedly Rickie Lambert, who is such a Pulis player. He’s big. He holds play up. He can finish. But Big Rick also has a wicked free kick in his arsenal, and an eye for a pass too.

He will be supplied by James McClean, who has been signed to run down the wing and cross the ball, simply.

It’s a simple approach, but one that Pulis has used to great effect before at Stoke and Palace before him. However, a standard 14th place finish is to be expected.

Player to watch: Saido Berahino

West Ham United – Can they leave Upton Park in style?

Judging by their embarrassing performance against Astra Giurgiu, hell no.

Yes, they were playing their second string, but their second string should be good enough to win comfortably. That raises questions about Slaven Bilic, who must be the favourite to get sacked first.

Signing Dimitri Payet was a real coup. The fans get the creativity they crave with him, having claimed 20 assists last season. That’s massive.

Similarly, the arrival of Angelo Ogbonna is a real statement, and the highly-rated Italian will be keen to erase memories of his torrid time at Juventus.

However, the squad they have is still struggling with injuries. Enner Valencia is out of commission for 3 months, leaving Diafra Sakho to pick up all the slack solo, given Andy Carroll’s perpetual lack of fitness.

Next season sees them move into the Olympic Stadium, so a top half finish is a must. From what we’ve seen so far though, there’s a lot of work to do before that’s possible.

Player to watch: Dimitri Payet

Arbitrary Table Prediction Time

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

Contenders for Top Scorer

Sergio Aguero – If he can remain fit for a full season, he is guaranteed to get 25 goals. Aguero is the benchmark, it’s up to everyone else to beat him.

Diego Costa – Explosive first half of last season which tailed off due to injuries towards the end. He is a menacing presence in the box and is sure to be a key player again.

Olivier Giroud – Being touted as a “15 goal a season” striker is basically saying that you aren’t good enough. Giroud is still the main striker at Arsenal, and this could be the season he finally bags 20+ goals.

Aleksandar Mitrovic – His pre-season interviews have painted a picture of him as a physical #9 who will literally throw himself at anything. That’s sure to stand him in good stead in the Premier League.

Wayne Rooney – Has hit 25+ goals in a season on two occasions. With a more frequent starting birth at striker, he could hit those heights again.

Golden Glove

Thibaut Courtois – If he doesn’t win, something is wrong with life.

Where did it go wrong for Labour?

I find myself using my old football blog to vent on the topic of the election.

As the most bizarre in history, I’ve been thinking about where Labour lost out.

1) They failed to tackle the notion that they were solely responsible for the economic crisis

When the coalition took the reins of the UK in 2010, they found a note left by former Labour treasury secretary Liam Byrne. This now infamous note, which read “I’m afraid there is no money”, has become something of a trinket for David Cameron. It’s been widely reported that he carries it on his person regularly.

Anyone with a vague understanding of economics knows that the situation between 2007 and 2009 was pretty poor. A double-dip recession and uncontrollable inflation levels cannot be purely attributed to overspending by Labour.

The banks had let their borrowing and spending get out of hand as well. Businesses such as Woolworths and Zavvi suffered from a lack of demand for their supply, and a failure to adapt to the growing e-commerce industry. This is without mentioning the tax dodging by big corporations that has been going on for years now.

Miliband always dodged questions relating to Gordon Brown era economics in the debates. He never once admitted his party overspent, and as a result he never shook the Brownite stigma attached to him; he was a key figure in Labour economics at the time of the recession.

2) They failed to convince people that “New Labour” was dead

Speaking of Gordon Brown, Labour made the mistake of assuming everyone had memories shorter than Verne Troyer.

2009 was only six years ago; did they really expect a population of millions to just forgive and forget what had happened with the economy?

I don’t understand why politicians are so obsessed with saving face in the public eye. People will vote for someone who is genuine. Miliband should have admitted the mistakes of the previous Labour government and told us why they were different this time.

He didn’t.

The over-borrowing, over-spending Labour of the 00s proved that they could monstrously fuck up an economy like no other. A lot of voters weren’t convinced it wouldn’t happen again.

3) Things would have been different if proportional representation was in place

With the official figures released, you will find that the Conservatives and Labour are separated by 6% of the vote. As it stands, Cameron and co have roughly 100 more seats than Labour. Let’s do some basic maths.

100/650 simplified is 10/65. Simplified again, it’s 2/13. As a percentage, that’s around 15%.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but 6% ≠ 15%.

UKIP can feel aggrieved about this too.

They are the third largest party on % of votes by a significant margin over the Liberal Democrats and the Greens, yet they only have 1 seat to show for 13% of total votes. Their party leader, Nigel Farage, didn’t win South Thanet and has now resigned (I believe this to be purely down to his controversial comments on HIV and women’s rights, among other things, but that’s for another time).

By comparison, the Lib Dems have 8 seats and the Greens have 1. The SNP have a smaller proportion of national votes too: they have 56 seats. Plaid Cymru have 3. DUP have 8. The third largest party has 1 seat.

Whether you like UKIP or not, that’s not fair voting.

4) They appealed to an audience that wasn’t there

Over the course of the campaign, one section of the population really took to Ed Miliband (and Ed Balls): Twitter.

Unfortunately, people who use Twitter and latch on to trends are young people. 18-24 year olds have has the lowest turnouts for every election since 1964. For the last three elections, the turnouts have been 40.4% (2001), 38.2% (2005) and 51.8% (2010). After the Lib Dems drove a huge, tuition fee shaped dagger into the backs of 18-24 year olds in 2011, I can’t see the turnout being high this year either.

Young people, for whatever reason, don’t exercise their right to vote. They’re wrong for not voting, but the fact remains that they don’t. Older people vote in droves, and because they have more money, they’ll vote Conservative. You won’t see a 70 year old joining the #Milifandom.

Similarly, Labour seemed to lean left-wing during their campaign. Who loves socialism? YOUNG PEOPLE. Who doesn’t? OLD PEOPLE.

To stand any chance of winning next election, they have to balance their stance to appeal to everyone.

5) Failure to capitalise on the rise and fall of opposition

No one could predict that Exit Poll. It shook politics as we know it. All signs pointed to a tight finish.

It predicted the Lib Dems would lose over 80% of their seats – a drop to 10. THIS WAS AN OVERPREDICTION. They got 8.

Those seats should have been more heavily targeted. The Conservatives jumped the gun on them.

Then there’s UKIP and the SNP. If there’s anything these two have in common, it’s that they’re both good at taking Labour votes. Did they do enough to stop this happening? No.

Instead, they focussed on the Conservative’s most vulnerable seats. There was one issue, though.

6) The SNP and the fear of “being held to ransom”

Ed could deny it all he wanted to; the only way he was getting into #10 was to get into bed with Nicola Sturgeon.

Judging by the surprise of the Conservative majority, it would be fair to speculate that many in England and Wales didn’t want Westminster held captive by Scotland. As a result, they didn’t vote for Conservative, they voted AGAINST Labour.

Politics is changing in one way. From the people I have spoken to, there seems to be a consensus that a fear of bad things happening is driving them to other parties.

I am a victim of this. I’ve been able to vote at one key election, which was the European Parliament election last year. I voted Lib Dem; despite broken promises at home, I thought they had the best policy moving forward for Europe.

I voted Labour yesterday. While I thought they had some shrewd policies on the NHS and the private housing sector, I still believe that the Lib Dems have the most sound economic plan of any party.

However, I knew that votes for them were going to avalanche, and if it came down to it, they would go into coalition with the Tories again.

I felt like a vote for Lib Dem would, for reasons outside of my control, be a vote for Conservative. That isn’t democracy.

I voted against Tory by voting for Labour.

On the flipside, those in fear of an SNP coalition with Labour would have changed their voting beliefs to vote against Labour, by voting for Conservative.

Would there have been a referendum on independence if Labour-SNP won? We’ll never know. There could still be one, given their new-found authority in The Commons.

This election has been memorable for its surprise, but also for a nationwide loss of hope.

I just finished watching Nick Clegg’s resignation speech. Tears streaming down his face, he spoke passionately and defiantly about his achievements in the coalition. His work deserved more than 8 seats and 8% of the vote. The tuition fees decision has cost them dearly.

He was bawling his eyes out as he walked off stage. We sometimes forget that politicians are human, especially the ones who go into the field to make a real difference. Clegg was one of the few genuine politicians we had.

Instead, David Cameron and the Eton massive are free to do whatever the hell they want to the UK. They don’t care about you. If it doesn’t line the pockets of the wealthy, they aren’t interested.

If David Cameron had won just 8 seats, you wouldn’t see him crying. He’s not human. He doesn’t care like Clegg does.

But what can the average worker, the student, the mentally unable, do to survive the next five years of right-wing, austerity-driven rule? Prepare.

Prepare for a private NHS.

Prepare for the mentally and physically ill to be afterthoughts.

Prepare for a housing crisis.

Prepare for a youth unemployment crisis.

Prepare for unaffordable education.

Prepare for overcrowded schools, while private schools are treated like charities.

Prepare for cuts to public services.

Prepare for welfare cuts, except the ones that go to those who don’t deserve it.

Prepare for an in-out referendum on Europe not happening.

Prepare to see the tax breaks go to millionaires and big corporations.

Prepare for an expansion of sensationalist Murdoch media.

Prepare (and this is a spoiler, not a prediction) for worse rioting than in 2011. (If you’re going to riot, leave housing and small businesses out of your targets)

Be prepared.

But David, you were The Chosen One


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.

Winning football matches or playing attractive football? Attractive football, every time

As I start, I know that I’ll be in a minority with this viewpoint, and open to ridicule. Who wants to lose with dignity when you can win with bruises? Nevertheless, I firmly believe that attractive and entertaining football should always be the priority.


On my football radio talk show which I host with Smoked Sammon creator Kris Coombes, the excellent question in the title was put to us by Jake Buckley. I knew that I’d be up against it when Kris and guests Alex Harman and Tom Lilley unanimously said “results” with haste. My housemate listening to the show said that he groaned when hearing this, correctly predicting my contrary view. The charge levelled at me is that football is a results business. I agree, but it’s also an entertainment business. The escalating and extortionate cost of attending football matches is clear for all to see; why would people want to pay good money to watch teams lump the ball in the air? Do you part with large sums of money to see David Silva or Jonathan Walters? Brian Clough got it right when he said “Any idiot can coach a group of players to kick the ball as hard and high as possible and then gallop after it…give me time and I could train a monkey to do it”. You wouldn’t go to a musical festival to see bands focusing all of their efforts on making sure that every note is played correctly (the football equivalent is ‘playing to percentages’); you want to see and hear verve, noise and excitement.


Football fans are a loyal bunch. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean that teams should play the most negative football on the presumption that fans will keep coming back for more; this same premise means that clubs often charge ridiculous amounts for tickets and replica shirts, knowing that fans (however disgruntled) will cough up. Stadiums are prone to losing supporters if the style of football is dreary; a smattering of die-hard loyalists won’t make up the financial difference. Sky Sports know this all too well; is Stoke v Crystal Palace going to be televised over Liverpool v Swansea? Of course the bigger teams get more coverage, but the point still stands. Football fans want to see a good game and leave the ground feeling they’ve got their money’s worth; they don’t want to be massaging a sore neck from looking skywards for most of the game.


Pragmatism has to play a part. I perfectly understand teams who are battling for survival towards the end of the season grinding out results more; fans do demand this, and I accept this. The same is true for teams battling for silverware; I remember Man City towards the end of the 11/12 season favouring a more cautious approach, having blitzed teams earlier in the year. However, over the course of a season, attractive football should be a priority. People may sneer back that if you’re not winning, it’s irrelevant. However, this isn’t good for the long term; take Derby County as an example. In the 06/07 promotion season we were the masters of grinding out 1-0 wins, and didn’t play the greatest football. I confess that I was one of the many who didn’t care one bit about the football we played; I was chuffed to see us winning so many games, and sure enough we beat West Brom 1-0 in the play-off final (despite being outclassed for most of it). The 07/08 Premier League season? You know the rest. A tiny bit of consolation would have been if we had given it an honest go at playing nice football, and to go down with a few plaudits. Instead, the football was dreadful, and fans certainly didn’t feel ‘entertained’. Long ball football can bring quick fix results, but at best you’ll reach a point where you stagnate in mid-table (Stoke), and at worst you’ll have the sight of Claude Davis trying to find Kenny Miller with a hopeless punt up field.


Who says you need stacks of cash to play football in an entertaining way? Through steady progress and footballing continuity, Swansea City under Roberto Martinez, Paulo Sousa, Brendan Rodgers and Michael Laudrup built up ‘Swanselona’ from League 1 to the Premier League and a League Cup win, gaining plenty of admirers along the way. The Championship is fast developing as a good footballing league; I would argue that the vast majority of teams who get promoted from it are teams capable of good football, and who at the very least don’t rely solely on the route one approach. A positive approach can reinvigorate a team so much. Nigel Clough did strive for good football at Derby County, and we often saw good footballing performances. However, he too was culpable for resorting to negative tactics. Steve McClaren took over with the Rams in 14th place, and with a change of formation (from a lopsided 4-4-2 to a 4-3-3/ 4-1-4-1) and a more positive approach they are (at the time of writing) in 3rd place.


Ultimately, it’s hard to deny that none of the very top teams play long ball football. Granted, the likes of Jose Mourinho favour a counter-attacking and restrictive approach, and this can pay dividends. Nevertheless, Mourinho’s teams still play football on the floor, and utilise this with some incredibly talented players. Furthermore, he can still be outperformed by more positive sides; who can forget Barcelona’s 5-0 mauling of Mourinho’s Real Madrid in 2010? Or Dortmund’s thrashing of Real Madrid in the Champions League last season? I hate the stereotype of the British game; even playing football at an amateur level I still hear cries of “put it in the mixer” and “gerrit in”. The national side has all too often prided itself on a direct, physical approach; Jack Wilshere (a little too proudly) notes “we have to remember what we are…we tackle hard, are tough on the pitch… you think of Spain and you think technical, but you think of England and you think they are brave and tackle hard”. What’s been the reward? Years of dreadful failure, but (contrary to belief) not underachievement; our technical limitations are obvious. Gus Poyet got it right when he noted that in Britain we all too often praise defenders if they can boot it clear, and wingers if they’re fast, without asking questions such as “can they pass it? Do they have a good touch?” You could have Usain Bolt on the wing, but if he can’t cross or pass the ball, how is he any use, even if he beats the full-back?

Attractive football is vital because it entertains the fans, but rather than be in conflict with results I think attractive football ultimately brings results. The best technical sides, ultimately, win the top prizes. Tactical nous and flexibility play a part, and the best teams don’t always win, but they mostly win. Teams lower down the divisions can be rewarded too if they have the confidence and conviction to carry out attractive football; Gus Poyet turned Brighton from being a League 1 relegation threatened team of long ball hoofers to a slick passing outfit competing for promotion to the Premier League. Football is a results business; attractive football more often than not brings those results. As fans, we deserve good football.

Ten stand-out players so far this season


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.


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.


£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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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:





——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.


No longer making plans for Nigel

As overused as this cliche is, it is nevertheless the end of an era. It seems a lifetime ago since Nigel Clough took over in January 2009, watching his new employers defeat Manchester United 1-0 in the first leg of the League Cup semi-final. His remit was to keep the club up, after the utterly disastrous spell under Paul Jewell, and he achieved that aim. His next task was to reduce the wage bill whilst producing a competitive team, and he did that too. An emphasis on youth was also placed, and the Rams (with the setback in 10/11 an exception) began to climb the table. However, it would appear that the 1-0 defeat to Nottingham Forest was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Was his sacking right?

My first reaction was mixed. Prior to Clough’s sacking, I had said to my sister not long after the Forest defeat that “I’m becoming more sceptical of Clough”. Be careful what you wish for. I feel no joy or optimism over this decision. Inconsistency has blighted the 13/14 campaign already, but prior to the City Ground result the Rams had the best away record in the league, with form at Pride Park the Achilles heel. On reflection, I feel that he should have been given at least until January, if not the end of the season. I’ve said recently that I wouldn’t mind finishing outside of the play-offs this season, provided that the play-off challenge was there, and was consistent. That’s looked unlikely so far this season, but are seasons made and broken in September?

Let’s evaluate Clough’s reign. He achieved his initial remit, and whilst the progress since has been relatively slow, it has been tangible and visible. Paul Jewell (and Billy Davies to an extent) littered Derby with far too many first team players, leaving Clough with essentially a bureaucratic as well as coaching role. I’ve spoken more in depth about Clough’s tactics in a previous post, but to surmise he has always tried to implement a passing style at Pride Park. For someone derided as ‘non-league Nigel’ by some, we played far better football under Clough’s reign than many of his predecessors, with George Burley probably the last manager to provide attractive football. His financial constraints have been clear for all to see, and in my opinion Clough’s good signings far outweighed his bad ones. When backed with larger sums for individual players, he has more often than not provided good value; think Shaun Barker, John Brayford, Jason Shackell and Richard Keogh, with Conor Sammon possibly the only expensive flop (although the jury is still out to a degree). When Clough detractors have gleefully pointed out his worst deals, they have often been either freebies (Lee Hendrie, Lee Croft, David Martin) or low cost signings (Chris Maguire, Chris Porter).

My main frustration with Clough was his stubbornness. Too often a substitution would be left late in a game, when changes were urgently needed. Michael Jacobs, a talented if raw winger who can play the Jamie Ward role has frequently been left in the cold due to his poor record at tracking back. Players would be signed and initially praised, only to be quickly frozen out at will. Formations would come and ago, with a clear lack of width (4-4-2 shapes would often involve central midfielders on the wing), and players often shoehorned into position (such as Craig Bryson on the left wing during the 12/13 season, or Jeff Hendrick on the right this season). Clough’s public blasting of players often got on the nerves of the supporters, such as this harsh view on Tomasz Cywka (a Clough signing): “So he can go back to Wigan or wherever he came from, I am not really bothered, until he learns the game”. A Clough team, ultimately, would be immensely hard working and dedicated, but with a lack of flair to unlock the tightest of defences. It became a little tiresome to reach the halfway point of a season with the mantra “let’s build for next season”.

However, it was refreshing to have a manager who clearly cared for the club. Cynics will say that it’s a results business, but what’s wrong with a bit of heart in the game? I of course want every manager of Derby County to succeed, but never more so than with Clough. I longed for the sight of Nigel holding aloft the Championship trophy (or play-off trophy; they both entail promotion), doing his family proud. Robbie Savage tweeted that Clough was a man “who put the club before himself”, and it’s hard to disagree with that. He clearly loved the club, and gave his all for the cause. His tenure was littered with quality signings; Shaun Barker, John Brayford, Jason Shackell, Craig Bryson, Jamie Ward and Richard Keogh to list a few. Furthermore, whilst the work of academy coaches should never be overlooked, Clough put the likes of Jeff Hendrick and Will Hughes into the first team; the latter in particular has the world at his feet. Clough never once directly moaned about the financial constraints, and on their day his teams could be a match for anyone in the league. Championship clubs may be sceptical, but League 1 and 2 clubs could certainly do a lot worse than Nigel.

September was too early to sack Clough. Pessimism has infiltrated Pride Park recently, but he could have turned it around. Perhaps a promotion challenge was just beyond him, but an improvement on 10th from last season was not beyond the realms of possibility. Buoyed by the cash of Will Hughes’ potential sale next year, who knows what Clough could have done with some money finally at his disposal? The alternative looks bleak, which I have often said to Clough-haters. Tony Pulis, seriously? We have methodically and carefully built up a passing game at Derby; why throw that away at one stroke with a rash appointment? I’d love to see where Will Hughes would fit into a Tony Pulis team. Jamie Ward and Craig Bryson would be considered too small. The long ball approach is archaic and ultimately ineffective; even Stoke tired of Pulis eventually despite his promotion exploits. The next manager has to be a significant improvement, and someone who can buy into the ethos on passing football and a strong academy. Of the available options, my best case scenario would be Gus Poyet, but that is extremely unlikely.

Had we finished below 10th this season, I may have called for Clough to go. However, the board’s pandering to a consistent and long-term approach looks pathetic with this decision. September is too early, and this looks all too much like a knee-jerk reaction. The board have a lot of questions to answer; Clough has been a convenient shield for their lack of investment. Had Clough had another year or two, perhaps we finally would have exploded a la Burton in 2009, with everything clicking into place. Thanks for everything Nigel. You kept us up, cleared the deadwood, reduced the wage bill, gave youth a chance and brought some entertainment back to Pride Park, even if it was often in patches. More importantly, you gave a damn about the club. On and off the pitch, the next guy has big shoes to fill.

Clough’s highlights:

-Derby’s 3-2 victory (after being 2-0 down) over Nottingham Forest in 2009, their first at the City Ground since 1971

-Four consecutive victories at the start of the 11/12 season; Derby’s best start for 106 years

-Down to 10 men and 1-0 down after one minute, Derby beat Forest 2-1 away in September 2011; they make it a league double in March 2012 with a Jake Buxton effort in a 1-0 win

Clough’s low points: 

-A 4-1 home defeat to Scunthorpe in January 2010; the first time his position was seriously called into question

-A 5-2 away feat at Nottingham Forest in December 2010. Need I say more?

-The 10/11 season. Fluid football in a 4-2-3-1 formation was later undone, and a strong promotion battle quickly regressed into a relegation dogfight and a 19th place finish

Best signings:

-Shaun Barker

-John Brayford

-Craig Bryson

Worst signings:

-Lee Croft

-Chris Maguire

-Nathan Tyson

Let’s finish with a quote from Brian, which sums up the current situation: “If a chairman sacks the manager he initially appointed, he should go as well”.

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.