Premier League Preview – 2011/2012 (Part One)

9 08 2011

We are less than a week away from the start of another Premier League season and it can’t start soon enough. Whilst the Women’s World Cup, youth level World Cups and youth level European Championships have provided ample viewing over the summer, nothing comes close to the excitement felt at the beginning of a new league campaign.

The summer transfer window has been a relatively busy one so far which suggests we are in for another compelling and competitive season. The Premier League’s expenditure (at the time of writing) stands at £303.2million, second only behind Serie A whose expenditure is £334million. The net spend, however, offers a totally different outlook with the Premier League’s net spend standing at -£155million with its nearest rival, the Bundesliga, in second place with a net spend of just -£32million. These are the type of figures that suggest an English club has a good chance of challenging for this season’s Champions League.

Now, without further adieu, let’s analyse the first five teams for the coming Premier League season.

Arsenal

Arsenal have experienced a miserable 2011 so far. The Carling Cup final defeat against Birmingham was the beginning of the slide which saw their League and Champions League hopes dashed before finishing the season, which offered so much early promise, in a disappointing 4th position. Their troubles appear to have continued during the close-season with the departures of captain Cesc Fabregas and the influential Samir Nasri edging ever closer. Factor in a tricky Champions League qualifier against Italy’s Udinese and Arsene Wenger has plenty of food for thought. Wenger’s first major foray into the transfer market was to secure the signature of Ivorian winger Gervinho in a deal worth £10.5million and, yesterday, he completed the transfer of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain from Southampton for an initial £12.1million. Are his two new signings adequate replacements for Fabregas and Nasri? Absolutely not. They are good signings nonetheless and it will be interesting to see how often they are utilised this season.

The main problem I see for Arsenal is their defensive frailties. Thomas Vermaelen is a terrific defender but he has

Photo of footballer Kieran Gibbs

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picked up another injury during a pre-season friendly which leaves Wenger to pick two from Laurent Koscielny, Johan Djourou and Sébastien Squillaci. None of those three are good enough for Arsenal. There is, of course, still time for Arsenal to beef up their defence and there have been a plethora of names linked with Gary Cahill and Phil Jagielka regularly mentioned.

It’s not just the centre of Arsenal’s defence which needs strengthening. Gael Clichy’s move to Manchester City means the injury-prone Kieran Gibbs (pictured) and returning loanee Armand Traore, if he remains with the club, will be fighting to fill the void and, in my opinion, Gibbs isn’t quite ready to handle the rigours of playing week-in, week-out at the highest level and Traore simply isn’t good enough.

There are a few positives for Arsenal fans this season. Jack Wilshere will continue to blossom and I expect Aaron Ramsey to make a big impact too. He’s a class individual with an eye for goal which should compliment the skills of Alex Song and Jack Wilshere perfectly. Avoiding injuries to key players such as Robin van Persie is of the utmost importance; the squad is not packed with quality and a prolonged spell on the sidelines for van Persie will be a bitter blow to their chances.

Key Man: Robin van Persie

Net Spend: -£15.7million

Prediction: 5th.

Aston Villa

Aston Villa have experienced a busy summer of comings and goings. Alex McLeish left bitter rivals Birmingham City to replace Gérard Houllier as manager and the playing staff has undergone a radical overhaul too. Villa have lost plenty of experienced players this summer with just two signings coming in. Ashley Young and Stewart Downing both left the club for big-money moves to Manchester United and Liverpool respectively, whilst the experienced quartet of Robert Pirès, Brad Friedel, Nigel Reo-Coker and John Carew all left the club on free transfers.

The incoming transfers should excite the Villa faithful despite the outgoings. £9.5million man Charles N’Zogbia was instrumental in leading Wigan Athletic to safety last season and without his goals and assists, it is highly likely they would be playing Championship football this season.  Shay Given is the other signing made by McLeish this season and he replaces the veteran American Brad Friedel who joined Tottenham Hotspur. Given’s acquisition is a very shrewd move. He’s consistently proved to be one of the best goalkeepers in the Premier League and, at 35 years old, offers plenty of experience to a side with a good balance of youth and experience. Given was signed for £3.3million and could prove to be one of the best signings this summer.

Aston Villa do not have the biggest of squads so it is vital to keep their key men injury-free. The form of Darren Bent is paramount to any hope they have on improving on last season’s 9th place finish. His goals will be the difference between the Europa League places or a mid-table finish.

Key Man: Darren Bent

Net Spend: +£23.1million

Prediction: 7th

Blackburn Rovers

1995 Premier League champions Blackburn are in for a difficult season. New owners Venky’s have over-promised and under-delivered on numerous occasions. When they bought the club for £30m at the turn of the year, there was reason for optimism among the fans. The promise of David Beckham and Ronaldinho can be viewed as a publicity stunt by new owners unknown in Britain. Sacking Sam Allardyce and replacing him with the inexperienced Steve Kean was another disaster by Venky’s. It is arguably the second biggest mistake they have made. The biggest mistake can be seen here and it involves footballers and chicken. Feel free to recycle the Paul Gascoigne joke now.

Phil Jones has been sold to Manchester United for £16.9million and David Goodwillie has been brought in from Dundee United for £2million. The futures of Christopher Samba and Nikola Kalinic are still in doubt and there is a worry of where goals will come from. Junior Hoilett and David Dunn will be expected to chip-in with goals from midfield but Goodwillie, Jason Roberts and Ruben Rochina will struggle to carry the burden of leading the line and scoring the goals required to keep Blackburn away from danger.

The Blackburn defence looked shaky after Allardyce’s departure so it is important to keep hold of players like Christopher Samba. If Blackburn are to survive in the Premier League this season, Paul Robinson, Michel Salgado, Christopher Samba, Ryan Nelsen and Gael Givet need to remain fit and in top form throughout the season.

Key Player: Christopher Samba

Net Spend: +£15.2million

Prediction: 16th

Bolton Wanderers

Owen Coyle has done a terrific job since taking over from Gary Megson in 2010. Attractive football as well as a few shrewd signings have revitalised a group of players who seemed disillusioned under the previous management. Coyle has added Nigel Reo-Coker, Darren Pratley, Tyrone Mears and Chris Eagles to his ranks for a combined fee of £2.9million with Ali Al-Habsi, Matthew Taylor and Johan Elmander the most notable departures. It is the latter’s departure that could have the biggest impact on Bolton if a suitable replacement isn’t found. Elmander, along with Kevin Davies and Daniel Sturridge, formed a potent strikeforce with each striker possessing skills to complement the others. It is clear that Coyle is in the market for a striker and David Ngog, Jelle Vossen and Cameron Jerome have all been heavily linked. If a new striker can be signed and the influential Gary Cahill stays with the Trotters I fancy Bolton to achieve another respectable final position.

Key Player: Gary Cahill

Net Spend: +£3.1million

Prediction: 11th

Chelsea

Chelsea start the new season with a new manager in charge in the hope that he can deliver the Champions League for the first time in the club’s history. Andre Villas-Boas is a tactically astute young manager with a preference for the 4-3-3 formation with an attacking philosophy and his promise is clear for all to see. Ever since joining the late Sir Bobby Robson at Porto in 1994 as a 16-year-old apprentice coach, he has gone on to learn from the very best before branching out on his own to receive acclaim in his own right. Villas-Boas was sent by Robson to Lilleshall to study for his coaching badges before becoming an integral part of Robson’s youth team set-up. Villas-Boas went on to become Jose Mourinho’s opposition scout and a vital component in his backroom staff where his tactical prowess and attention to detail was key to Mourinho’s success. Fast-forward nearly two decades and Villas-Boas has won the Portuguese title and the Europa League with home-town club Porto before Chelsea met his £13million release clause to appoint him as Carlo Ancelotti’s successor.

Villas-Boas’ biggest problem will be the lack of time he will be afforded by owner Roman Abramovich. The Portuguese is under no illusions and acknowledges this to be the case. Abramovich is regularly criticised (and I’m as guilty as anybody of doing this) for the way in which he disposes of managers who have failed to win the Champions League but we must accept that this is his prerogative and part of the deal when a multi-billionaire buys a football club. It is the rough with the smooth that I’ve tweeted about many times before. He’s given Chelsea fans the billions of pounds needed to transform a mid-table club into one competing for major honours year-after-year. On the flip side, he can hire and fire whoever he wants, whenever he wants. That’s the deal on the table.

Villas-Boas has spent a sizeable amount so far. Belgian wonderkid Romelu Lukaku arrived from Anderlecht for £19.3million, Thibaut Courtois also arrived from Belgian side Genk for £7.9million and will spend the season on loan at Atletico Madrid as a replacement for Manchester United’s £17.6million new boy David de Gea, Lucas Piazon cost £6.6million from Sao Paulo and Oriol Romeu is a young defender who set the west-Londoners back £4.4million from Barcelona. The youth movement is something which was desperately needed at Stamford Bridge with many of the current first-team players on the wrong side of thirty. A blend of youth and experience should see Chelsea maintain a strong challenge on all fronts this season. Building the team around Fernando Torres is something which needs to happen; he’s a top class striker who will score goals. If Frank Lampard can remain fit for the majority of the season, Chelsea could well be the team to beat.

Key Player: Fernando Torres

Net Spend: -£17.3million

Prediction: 2nd

All transfer fees correct according to the excellent TransferMarkt. Don’t believe the exaggerated fees you see in newspapers and on Sky Sports News!

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Liverpool’s Fernando Torres & Jamie Carragher take on the blindfold penalty challenge

24 10 2010

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30/08/2010 – Monday Transfer Talk

30 08 2010

Manchester United are preparing a £10m-plus Michael Carrick bid for Everton midfielder Jack Rodwell before the transfer deadline at 18:00 BST on Tuesday.

Tottenham will make a late £15m bid for Aston Villa winger Ashley Young and they are willing to offer the likes of Robbie Keane, Jermaine Jenas and Alan Hutton as sweeteners.

West Ham have rejected Liverpool’s opening £7m offer for Carlton Cole, but are believed to have Brescia targetman Andrea Caracciolo as a back-up.

Manchester United are monitoring the progress of 22-year-old Sunderland midfielder Lee Cattermole.

Tottenham boss Harry Redknapp will launch a last-gasp bid to sign Sevilla’s Brazilian striker Luis Fabiano, while moves for Villarreal forward Giuseppe Rossi and AC Milan hitman Klass-Jan Huntelaar remain possibilities.

Spurs have been told by AC Milan to come back with a better offer for Huntelaar after the Italians refused to let him leave on loan. The Dutch striker could cost £11m.

[picapp align=”left” wrap=”true” link=”term=sulley+muntari&iid=9276263″ src=”http://view3.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/9276263/sports-news-july-2010/sports-news-july-2010.jpg?size=500&imageId=9276263″ width=”234″ height=”275″ /] Harry Redknapp is also in talks with Inter Milan over a move for Ghana midfielder Sulley Muntari, 26 (left).

Wigan are hoping to finalise a £2m deal for Chelsea striker Franco di Santo, 21, and want Man Utd midfielder Tom Cleverly to join on loan.

The Latics are also expected to offer Bolton £3m for their goalkeeper Ali-al Habsi.

West Brom want to sign Aston Villa midfielder Steve Sidwell, 27, for £3m before the transfer window.

The Baggies are also in talks with former Wigan midfielder Paul Scharner over a deal to take him to The Hawthorns.

Barcelona will sign one final player before the deadline after Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s exit to AC Milan, with Man City’s Robinho and Valencia’s Juan Mata top of their wanted list.

Sunderland are closing in on a £15m move for Rennes’ Ghanaian striker Asamoah Gyan, who starred for his country at this summer’s World Cup.

Juventus are trying to sign Arsenal left-back Armand Traore, 20, on a year-long loan deal.

Newcastle are planning a £8m swoop for Dutch striker Ricky van Wolfswinkel, who last week hit a hat-trick for Utrecht as they knocked Celtic out of the Europa League.

Birmingham have been offered Spartak Moscow’s 31-year-old captain Martin Jiranek, who can play at centre-back or left-back.

Reading midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson is a shock £4.25m target for German side Hoffenheim, the leaders of the Bundesliga. The Royals could use the cash to bid £1m for Leicester striker Matty Fryatt.

Stoke are preparing a £7m bid for out-of-favour Spurs midfielder Jermaine Jenas, while Potters boss Tony Pulis is also keen on Portsmouth skipper Marc Wilson, Wigan striker Hugo Rodallega and ­Middlesbrough defender David Wheater.

[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=eidur+gudjohnsen&iid=3598847″ src=”http://view1.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/3598847/soccer-2009-barcelona-beat/soccer-2009-barcelona-beat.jpg?size=500&imageId=3598847″ width=”234″ height=”314″ /] The Potters are also in talks to sign Monaco’s Eidur Gudjohnsen (right) on loan.

Blackpool have made a late bid to sign Barnsley’s 22-year-old forward Adam Hammill.

Manchester City are lining up a bid for Watford goalkeeper Scott Loach, 22, who was called into the England squad for the Hungary game.

Bolton boss Owen Coyle are back in the hunt for Spanish striker Rodrigo Moreno, 19, as the £5m man is set to leave Benfica on loan.

Derby are favourites to sign West Brom’s New Zealand World Cup striker Chris Wood, 18, on loan.

Sheffield United boss Gary Speed is ready to take Stoke midfielder Michael Tonge, 27, to Bramall Lane.

England coach Fabio Capello faces a defensive crisis ahead of their opening Euro 2012 qualifiers, with Rio Ferdinand and John Terry both missing.

But Capello delivered a double snub to Spurs stars Aaron Lennon and Tom Huddlestone as he left them out of his 24-man squad to take on Bulgaria and Switzerland.

Bayern Munich’s Dutch World Cup hero Arjen Robben could be out of action for the rest of the year with the hamstring injury he aggravated in South Africa.

Liverpool boss Roy Hodgson has begged Spain not to pick striker Fernando Torres and let him continue his recuperation from a knee injury at Anfield.

Charles N’Zogbia’s £9m move from Wigan to Birmingham collapsed after he asked for an extra £10,000-a-week to take his wages to £50,000-a-week.

For full stories, head over to the BBC website.





23/08/2010 – Monday Transfer Talk

23 08 2010

Arsenal have set their sights on signing Netherlands international goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg and centre-back Jan Vertonghen from Ajax in a £22m deal.

[picapp align=”left” wrap=”true” link=”term=peter+crouch&iid=9575561″ src=”http://view2.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/9575561/peter-crouch-tottenham/peter-crouch-tottenham.jpg?size=500&imageId=9575561″ width=”234″ height=”285″ /] Stoke manager Tony Pulis has ruled out a move for Tottenham striker Peter Crouch (left), insisting the former Liverpool and Portsmouth player is out of his price range.

AC Milan have admitted they are attempting to sign Swedish forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic from Barcelona, but admit that the chances of landing him look remote. “We will try but it’s difficult,” said chief executive Adriano Galliani.

Liverpool midfielder Javier Mascherano has agreed personal terms with Barcelona for a move to the Spanish side, however the clubs are yet to settle on a fee. Barca have offered around £12m but Liverpool want closer to £21m.

Liverpool are also willing to engage in further talks with Inter Milan over the sale of Dirk Kuyt to the Italian side. The Reds have already rejected an offer thought to be in the region of £7.5m plus Nigerian striker Victor Obinna.

Inter Milan striker Victor Obinna is due at West Ham on Monday for talks. Hammers boss Avram Grant has acted swiftly to tee up a possible move for the 23-year-old Nigerian international.

Paris Saint-Germain playmaker Stephane Sessegnon is keen on a move to England, with Tottenham and West Ham interested in the 26-year-old.

Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp is preparing a £12.3m bid for Benin international Sessegnon.

Blackburn have put a £1m price tag on Jason Roberts – the striker without a squad number. Leeds and Nottingham Forest are interested in the 32-year-old but may wait until the Football League loan window opens next month.

[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=david+trezeguet&iid=8282210″ src=”http://view.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/8282210/sports-news-march-2010/sports-news-march-2010.jpg?size=500&imageId=8282210″ width=”234″ height=”351″ /] Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson will look to secure a deal to bring 32-year-old Juventus forward David Trezeguet (right) to Anfield.

Fulham boss Mark Hughes insists goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer’s departure from Craven Cottage is not a “foregone conclusion”, in spite of continued interest from Arsenal.

Wigan manager Roberto Martinez faces crunch talks with his chairman Dave Whelan. Martinez wants to bring in two strikers but Whelan is more keen to discuss plans for the defence after the Latics conceded 10 goals in two games.

Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli can be an even better player than Fernando Torres, says City boss Roberto Mancini.

For full stories, head over to the BBC website.

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Fernando Torres Returns to Anfield For Pre-Season

3 08 2010

Sky’s Fraser Dainton reports on Fernando Torres and reveals a few details about Kenny Huang’s bid for the club.

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Torres: I’m At The Best Club

3 08 2010

Fernando Torres has gone on record as saying he is happy at Liverpool and he will be playing his football at Anfield this season. The news broke at 14:00 on Sky Sports News and below is the full interview from the official Liverpool website.

After arriving back to Melwood as a World Cup winner, Fernando Torres sat down with Liverpoolfc.tv to discuss his new manager, the arrival of Joe Cole and his dreams of taking the Reds back to the top of English football.

First of all Fernando, congratulations on winning the World Cup – have you had a good summer?

Yes, as you can imagine it was an amazing day for Spaniards all over the world. Winning the World Cup happens maybe once in your life so it was a fantastic feeling and a great way to end the season. I have had a break over the summer and I’m now glad to be back here at Liverpool to see all of my teammates. [picapp align=”left” wrap=”true” link=”term=fernando+torres&iid=8468073″ src=”http://view3.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/8468073/sports-news-april-2010/sports-news-april-2010.jpg?size=500&imageId=8468073″ width=”234″ height=”156″ /]

We know you picked up an injury in the World Cup final. How are you feeling now, are you fit and ready to go again?

Yes, I am looking forward to the first game. I have less than two weeks to get ready but I felt really good in my first session back with the physios and the doctor. I will try to be fit as soon as possible and I am looking forward to playing at Anfield again.

We know it’s hard work early in pre-season, but are you enjoying being back around your teammates again?

Of course. After a nice break enjoying the summer with my family I was looking forward to coming back to Melwood to see the staff, my teammates and the new players. I’m excited about the new season and about the targets of the club.

We obviously have a new manager now who you met in Spain. How impressed are you with Roy Hodgson’s plans for the club and how much are you looking forward to working with him?

I really appreciated the fact that Roy came out to see me while I was on my holidays. He told me about his plans for the club and what he wanted from me and I appreciated that. I hope he will be the right man to reach the targets of Liverpool Football Club and I am really looking forward to working with him. At the moment I am training just on my own but as soon as I can I will train with the team and with the new manager.

Steven Gerrard has already said he is looking forward to the new season, Joe Cole has arrived and made his debut at the weekend – how excited are you about the future here at Liverpool?

I was talking to Stevie a lot today and I also met with Joe. I think Joe is exactly the kind of player we need to improve the history of our club. We are keeping our best players and so it’s nice to be back with them. Hopefully we can play together as soon as possible.
[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=fernando+torres&iid=4875131″ src=”http://view2.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/4875131/football-liverpool/football-liverpool.jpg?size=500&imageId=4875131″ width=”380″ height=”255″ /]
How excited were you when you heard Joe Cole was signing for Liverpool?

He is the kind of player I like to play with and the kind of player who can take the team to a higher level. His passing is unbelievable so hopefully he can start the season well because I am sure he will be a key player for us.

Joe has said he’s looking forward to creating a lot of chances and a lot of goals for you this season…

Hopefully that will be the case. I’m excited about playing with him and hopefully we can all help him settle into the team and the city to make sure he can reach his best as quickly as possible. It’s up to us to help the new players.

What are your personal targets this season and what do you think Liverpool can achieve?

This is the best club in the country so the targets and expectations are always high. Hopefully we can stay at our level. At Liverpool the aim is to fight for every title. It was difficult last season but we are sure we can improve this season. I am really happy to be back, really happy to stay with all my teammates. My commitment and loyalty to the club and to the fans is the same as it was on my first day when I signed. I am looking forward to the challenge ahead.

Why does this club mean so much to you?

From my first day I got the same welcome as Stevie or Carra or players who have been here for a long time. I felt at home from the first day, I feel the fans love me and everyone knows I am really happy here and really happy to play at Anfield. As I said earlier, I’m looking forward to starting the season and playing with my teammates and for the fans.

Is the dream to score the goals which wins trophies for this club?

Of course. I know that one trophy here at Liverpool – maybe the Premier League – means more than three or four with another club. This was my target from the day I came and it’s still my target. Hopefully this season we can feel this sensation here at Liverpool.





Hodgson Moves for Dangerous Bryan

6 07 2010

Roy Hodgson is looking to bolster his attacking options at Liverpool by lining up FC Twente’s Costa Rican hitman Bryan Ruiz. The 24-year-old netted 24 goals last season and was a crucial member of their league winning side. The striker has made 196 appearances at club level for three different sides and has scored 74 goals in the process, averaging a goal nearly every two and half games.

Hodgson sent scouts to watch him play whilst he was still the manager of Fulham last season but the £12.5million fee was deemed too steep for The Cottagers.

Ruiz was a €5million signing by Steve McClaren from Belgian side Ghent just a year ago but his impressive form in that debut season for the Dutch side has seen him linked with McClaren’s new club Wolfsburg as well as Sevilla and Villarreal.

Hodgson’s interest in Ruiz comes at a time when Fernando Torres’ own future on Merseyside appears to be in doubt, although Hodgson is keen to get Ruiz’s signature whether Torres leaves or not.

Mark Jepson








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