Premier League Preview – 2011/2012 (Part Two)

10 08 2011

Everton

Everton are the only team out of the 92 in the football league who have not signed a player on a permanent basis.  Youngster Eric Dier, an Englishman with Portuguese dual-nationality, has joined on a second loan spell from Sporting Lisbon whilst James Vaughan has joined Norwich City for £2million. That is the end of the transfer dealings at Goodison Park this summer so far.

Everton have a good youth academy, and they’ve needed it, which has seen Jack Rodwell slot into the team well in previous seasons and this campaign could also see Jose Baxter and the highly-rated Ross Barkley feature regularly for the first team due to having such a small squad. The loss of the impressive Seamus Coleman for six months with an ankle ligament injury is a big blow for Everton. Coleman picked up the injury courtesy of an awful tackle by Villarreal’s Carlos Marchena in a pre-season friendly. Versatile players such as Coleman are vital to teams like Everton.

Evertonians must hope key players Mikel Arteta and Jack Rodwell have the worst of their injury woes behind them and remain injury-free this season and the returning Yakubu is still good enough to score goals at this level. On paper, Everton’s first XI is reasonably strong and David Moyes is perfectly capable of over-achieving like he has many times before.

Key Player: Tim Cahill

Net Spend: +£2million

Prediction: 9th

Fulham

Last season Mark Hughes continued Roy Hodgson’s good work from the previous campaign and both men have left a good set of players behind and a structure in place for Martin Jol to build upon.  A quiet summer of transfer activity so far has seen John Arne Riise and Patjim Kasami come in as the most notable signings. Will these signings be enough to see Fulham continue the good work started by Jol’s predecessors? They are certainly a good start.

Fulham’s season began on 30th June in the Europa League qualifiers so they should be fully prepared and match fit come the start of the Premier League season. The concern could be that a lengthy run in the Europa League might see Fulham end the season in a similar fashion to when they reached the Europa League final in 2010. I can’t see Fulham being dragged anywhere near the relegation zone but another mid-table finish beckons.

Key Player: Clint Dempsey

Net Spend: -£5.2million

Prediction: 12th

Liverpool

Liverpool have spent a sizeable amount so far and there’s every indication that one or two more signings are still to come. Having just a net spend of £2million in January due to the sales of Fernando Torres and Ryan Babel counter-acting the fees paid for Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez, Liverpool have signalled their intent on finishing in the top four this season by splashing out heavily with a net spend of £41million on Jordan Henderson for an initial fee of £15.8million, Charlie Adam for £7.3million and Stewart Downing for £20million. Brazil goalkeeper Doni joined from AS Roma on a free transfer to act as understudy to Pepé Reina.

Have Liverpool spent too much on Henderson and Downing? Many would argue, yes. I, however, disagree. Many still judge a player in today’s market by the fees associated with players of a similar calibre from previous years. The Transfer Price Index offers an excellent insight into this. Jordan Henderson, Phil Jones, Romelu Lukaku and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are the very latest signings to support the argument.

Strong financial backing by Liverpool’s American owners means the squad has been strengthened and a top four finish is a must. The signings of Adam and Downing will offer Liverpool something which has been lacking since Xabi Alonso, and probably Steve McManaman, left the club; a deep-lying playmaker in Adam and a genuine winger in Downing. Whilst comparisons are never helpful it is understandable to see why they are often made. In an attacking sense, there are plenty of options available to Kenny Dalglish. A front three from Luis Suarez, Andy Carroll, Dirk Kuyt and Stewart Downing supported by three from, assuming they all remain with the club, Lucas Leiva, Steven Gerrard, Alberto Aquilani, Raul Meireles, Charlie Adam, Jay Spearing, Jonjo Shelvey and Jordan Henderson means we should expect plenty of goals from Liverpool.

The biggest problem I foresee for Liverpool is the same problem I foresee for Arsenal and that is the defence. Liverpool conceded 15 goals in 6 pre-season games and whilst it is important to retain perspective and not jump to conclusions based on pre-season results, it’s hard to disagree that the defence could be Liverpool’s Achilles heel. With the end of the transfer window drawing ever closer, it could be that whoever out of Liverpool and Arsenal brings in the best defensive reinforcements has the edge in the quest to finish in the top four.

At right-back, Glen Johnson, Martin Kelly and even John Flanagan provides me with no worries, but the rest of the defence could be exploited, particularly if injuries occur. Daniel Agger and Fabio Aurelio are very suspect to injury which is a shame as few doubt their ability. A full season from these two would leave Liverpool fans with few worries. Jamie Carragher isn’t getting any younger but his experience is crucial in bringing through young players such as Martin Kelly, John Flanagan, Jack Robinson, Andre Wisdom and Stephen Sama. Unfortunately, the signs are there to suggest that Carragher is on the decline. For me, Martin Skrtel isn’t good enough and Sotirios Kyrgiakos is a mix of the two aforementioned; he’s not getting any younger and he’s no longer good enough. Scott Dann appears likely to join Arsenal leaving Liverpool to look elsewhere for defensive reinforcements but José Enrique appears to be edging ever closer to signing for Liverpool to compete with Fabio Aurelio and Emiliano Insua for the left-back berth, assuming the latter remains at the club.

This is a big season for Liverpool. The realistic aim is to get back into the Champions League whilst bringing through the young players needed to enable a title challenge in the coming seasons.

Key Player: Luis Suarez

Net Spend: -£41million

Prediction: 4th

Manchester City

Manchester City enjoyed a reasonably successful season last term. Their first major trophy since 1976 has given the City faithful reason to be optimistic this season. City has continued to spend heavily this summer. A net spend of £46.6million, more than any other Premier League club, has been invested to ensure they strongly challenge for the Premier League and the Champions League this season. Sergio Aguero was signed from Atletico Madrid for £39.5million, highly-rated defender Stefan Savic cost £10.5million from Serbian outfit Partizan Belgrade, Gael Clichy switched allegiance from Arsenal for £6.8million and Costel Pontilimon is moving to England from Romanian side Politehnica Timisoara for £5.7million, replacing Shay Given as Joe Hart’s understudy.

Manchester City were outclassed by rivals Manchester United in the Community Shield.

Carlos Tévez playing for Manchester City

Image via Wikipedia

From 2-0 up, United showed their class and resilience by pulling the game back to 2-2 early in the second half. Roberto Mancini’s tactics and choice of substitution were particularly baffling. When chasing a winning goal, Mancini sent Gareth Barry and Gael Clichy on to the field. I have my doubts as to whether Mancini is the man to deliver the Premier League title to Eastlands for the first time.

The Carlos Tevez saga (pictured with his bulldog like approach) continues to rumble on and that needs to be resolved one way or the other. Nobody can deny the talent City have in their squad. On paper, they’re as good as any side. Unfortunately for City, football isn’t played on paper and question marks remain about the temperament of some of their players and the seemingly lack of team spirit. I expect the league to be very tight at the top so the fixtures between the top sides are crucial; the team who amasses the most points from those games will, in my opinion, win the league. I don’t think City are quite ready this season but they should fare well in the cup competitions.

Key Player: David Silva

Net Spend: -£46million

Prediction: 3rd

Manchester United

Manchester United have had a solid pre-season and Sir Alex Ferguson has shown signs of building yet another side capable of dominating for years to come. The average age of  United’s team in the second half (prior to Dimitar Berbatov’s five-minute cameo) of the Community Shield match against Manchester City was just 22 years old. £50.4million has been spent on David de Gea (£17.6million), Phil Jones (£16.9million) and Ashley Young (£15.8million) to ensure they remain as dangerous as ever with £10.1million being recouped from the sales of John O’Shea, Wes Brown, Gabriel Obertan and a handful of young players. The emergence of youth products Danny Welbeck and Tom Cleverley ensures there is a healthy competition for places at Old Trafford to enable a sustained challenge on all fronts for the coming season. Sir Alex Ferguson is laying down the foundations and building another squad that can be successful long after he retires.

Paul Scholes and Edwin Van der Sar have retired and the departures of John O’Shea, Wes Brown and Owen Hargreaves means a lot of experience has left the United squad this summer. It remains to be seen if United struggle in the way that Chelsea struggled in the previous season when a number of experienced players left for pastures new.  It’s impossible to replace Scholes; he’s one of the Premier League’s best ever players. That said, it’s a big season for the current crop of United stars and someone needs to step out of the shadows in an attempt to fill the void left by Scholes’ retirement. A stand-out season could lie in wait for Anderson. He’s shown in short spells the quality he has but now he needs to add consistency to his game. It could be a make-or-break season for the 23-year-old Brazilian.

Javier Hernández will prove to be an indispensable member of the first-team squad and I’m sure he’ll build on his terrific début season. A strike partnership with Wayne Rooney has the makings of being as good as any around and the two are vital to any success United can hope to have.

Key Player: Javier Hernández

Net Spend: -£40.2million

Prediction: 1st

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





17/12/2010 – Friday’s Paper Round-Up

17 12 2010
Carlos Tévez playing for Manchester City

Image via Wikipedia

Arsenal striker Nicklas Bendtner could be sent on loan to Everton in January with a view to a permanent transfer. The Gunners are interested in Freiburg striker Papis Demba Cisse.

Tottenham are interested in signing former England skipper David Beckham in the January transfer window. The LA Galaxy midfielder does not report back for his club until March.

Manchester City and Tottenham are leading the chase for Dutch midfielder Mark van Bommel, who is the captain of German giants Bayern Munich.

Liverpool are keen on Zenit St Petersburg right-back Alexander Anyukov. The 28-year-old is rated at £18m.

Real Madrid manager Jose Mourinho wants to sign Manchester City’s Carlos Tevez, team-mate Emmanuel Adebayor or Manchester United’s Javier Hernandez in the January transfer window to cover for injured striker Gonzalo Higuain.

Liverpool are ready to join the battle for Borussia Dortmund midfielder Nuri Sahin, who has also caught the eye of Juventus and Inter Milan. Dortmund will refuse to sell in the January transfer window, but could be ready to do business in the summer for a figure of about £13m.

Lille winger Eden Hazard has hinted that he will shun the overtures of Real Madrid to join Arsenal at the end of the season. The 19-year-old has impressed with his performances this campaign and has revealed that he turned down the chance to join Chelsea for £12m last June.

Chelsea boss Carlo Ancelotti has identified Wolfsburg’s Simon Kjaer as the solution to his ongoing centre-back problem.

Aston Villa are interested in Villarreal forward Guillermo Andres Lopez. The 18-year-old is also wanted by PSV Eindhoven and Barcelona.

Former Blackburn boss Sam Allardyce has told West Ham that he will not talk to the club about taking over at Upton Park while manager Avram Grant is still in charge.

Tottenham winger David Bentley is wanted by Liverpool but Birmingham remain favourites to sign the 26-year-old.

Arsenal midfielder Denilson is a £10m target for former England manager Steve McClaren, who is now is charge at Wolfsburg.

Under-pressure Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti has indicated that he will honour his contract with the club, staying in London “at least until 2012”.

England manager Fabio Capello has dismissed reports linking him with moves to Inter Milan or Manchester City.

Birmingham will offer midfielder Sebastian Larsson a new contract, and have criticised Stoke for expressing their interest in the 25-year-old Swede.

Tottenham have offered to redevelop the Crystal Palace sports centre as the legacy part of their bid to occupy the 2012 Olympic Stadium after the London Games. Spurs, who are battling it out with West Ham for the venue, do not want to retain the athletics track at the Olympic Stadium.

Fifa general secretary Jérôme Valcke has talked up the possibility of future World Cups, including the 2022 tournament in Qatar, being moved to the European winter.

Formula 1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone has bought a controlling share in Queens Park Rangers, increasing his stake to 62% after buying out Flavio Briatore.

Fulham boss Mark Hughes has slammed the logic behind the sackings of former Newcastle manager Chris Hughton and ex-Blackburn boss Sam Allardyce, insisting club owners expect too much too soon.

Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini says unsettled striker Carlos Tevez will play against Everton on Monday and insists he will resolve the Argentine’s future in the next 48 hours.

However, Mancini will take the captain’s armband off Tevez when the pair meet to discuss the situation on Friday.

Former Wimbledon striker Dean Holdsworth, who is currently at Newport County, is one of the candidates to take charge at Bristol Rovers following the dismissal of Paul Trollope.

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger predicts his side will get Barcelona in Friday’s last 16 Champions League draw. “I know who we will get,” he said about the side who beat them in the 2006 final.

Sir Bobby Charlton is adamant that, contrary to popular legend, Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson would not have been sacked if he had lost a third-round FA Cup tie at Nottingham Forest back in 1990. “The media were the ones who were pushing,” recalled former player-turned-director Charlton.

In a straight-talking address on English football, current Ipswich boss and Manchester United legend Roy Keane labelled Monday’s Premier League clash between his former club and rivals Arsenal as “rubbish”.

For full stories, head over to the BBC website.





Super Mario Flies in for Medical

13 08 2010

[picapp align=”left” wrap=”true” link=”term=mario+balotelli&iid=1812988″ src=”http://view1.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/1812988/sports-news-october-2008/sports-news-october-2008.jpg?size=500&imageId=1812988″ width=”234″ height=”351″ /] According to Sky Sports, Inter Milan striker Mario Balotelli is set to fly to England to undergo a medical with Manchester City.

Balotelli’s agent, Mino Raiola, revealed on Thursday how a deal was close for the 20-year-old to become the latest big-money signing for Manchester City this summer.

City boss Roberto Mancini is a long time admirer of the 20-year-old, who won his first cap for Italy this week, after signing him for Inter as a 16-year-old. “We are close with Balotelli,” said Mancini. “Hopefully today or tomorrow. Mario is on his way here today.”

The deal has taken a long time to agree but compromise has been made between the two sides and the fee agreed is believed to be £24million.

His arrival will come too late for him to be registered to play against Tottenham on the opening day of the season which means his debut will most likely be against Liverpool on the 23rd of August.

The Italian will be the fifth major signing of a busy summer for City. He will join David Silva, Jerome Boateng, Aleksandar Kolarov and Yaya Toure as new arrivals.

Mark Jepson

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The Race for Fourth

24 03 2010

As the race for fourth place hots up, it is looking increasingly unlikely that Liverpool will finish in the coveted fourth Champions League qualifying spot. Currently lying in sixth place in the Premier League and having played one game more than fourth placed Tottenham and two games more than Manchester City and Aston Villa, it looks an increasingly uphill battle. That said, a look into the remaining fixtures perhaps suggests that Liverpool’s run-in is more favourable than that of our rivals.

The Champions League Trophy: The Race for Fourth.

Manchester City are for me favourites to clinch fourth place, largely due to them having nothing else to compete for and they have six of their remaining nine league games at home where they are yet to be beaten. They have two games in hand on Liverpool and one on Tottenham and despite the saying that you would rather have the points on the board, I fancy City to win their games in hand. This said, they still have to play Everton tonight, as well as their last five games being against Manchester United, Arsenal, Aston Villa, Tottenham and West Ham on the final day of the season, who themselves will be scrapping for their Premier League status. By no means are these easy games for City but if they have genuine aspirations of finishing fourth and even higher next season, these are the type of games they must find a way of winning.

Number One: Mancini's side are in pole position to challenge Europe's elite.

Moving on to Tottenham who have today announced the signing of Brazilian midfielder Sandro from Internacional. They face Fulham in the FA Cup replay at White Hart Lane tonight with the winner facing crisis-club Portsmouth in the semi final. Their Premier League race for fourth run-in is as difficult as Manchester City’s. Trips to Sunderland, Burnley and Manchester City, in what could essentially be a Champions League play-off, are tough enough yet they also have to face Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal in consecutive matches. Their record against the ‘big three’ is not too impressive and I struggle to see them picking up more than three points against the sides currently above them. When this is considered with their recent spell of injuries to key players such as Roman Pavlyuchenko, Jermain Defoe and Aaron Lennon, I think their most realistic chance of having a successful season is to win the FA Cup and qualify for the Europa League after a year without European football.

Defoe, with 17 Premier League goals, is out for three weeks.

This leads me on to Aston Villa who have already booked their place in the FA Cup semi final. I struggle to see them finishing fourth as for one reason, I don’t think their squad is big enough and they are suffering from a loss of form, particularly at home where they have won just once in their last six. Their squad is thin in the sense that when Gabriel Agbonlahor gets injured, they often resort to long balls for John Carew or Emile Heskey despite on their day playing attractive football. Their run-in is more favourable than Tottenham’s and Manchester City’s but they must still face City away, the only side yet to be beaten at home this season, as well as a trip to Chelsea and the Midlands derby with surprise package Birmingham City. Much like Liverpool last season, defeats haven’t been their downfall but they are picking up too many draws with the latest at home to local rivals Wolves proving this point. Villa have lost half as many games as Liverpool yet they have won two less. Their inability to turn these draws into wins could prove costly and I can only see them finishing seventh. The return of key players at Everton could even see them push for a top seven finish. As a result, like Tottenham, I see their best chance of having a successful season being an FA Cup win and Europa League football again next season.

The strain begins to show: O'Neill looks on as Villa drop two points against Wolves.

This leaves me with Liverpool. A season that offered so much hope after last season’s second place finish saw us crash out of the Champions League early and lose to Arsenal and Reading in the Carling and FA Cups respectively. The two-legged Europa League clash with Portuguese side Benfica is fast approaching and this is the last remaining trophy to aim for. However, given our current financial situation, a fourth placed finish would be received as warmly as a trophy itself. Our run-in is perhaps on paper the easiest out of the four sides battling for fourth with Chelsea the only side left to play above us. Yet our away form this season is woeful; we have only won four games away from Anfield so far. Four draws and eight defeats tells the rest of the story and proves this is where our weakness lies. Birmingham away will be a tough game after they came close to beating us at Anfield and will surely want revenge for David Ngog’s late dive that cost them all three points. However, the trip to St. Andrews aside, our only other two away games are Hull City and Burnley. No disrespect to either side but if we do not take six points from those two games then we simply do not deserve to finish fourth. Our remaining home games see us entertain Sunderland next before three visits from London sides Fulham, Chelsea and West Ham United. On paper, it looks like five or six wins from the final seven fixtures is not unrealistic. Football, as I’m sure you’re aware, is not played on paper.

The fitness of Gerrard and Torres is vital if Liverpool can maintain their push for fourth.

In a season of ups and (considerably more) downs and despite remaining optimistic it appears that the “Top Four’s” stranglehold over the Premier League is about to be broken for the first time since Everton finished fourth in the 2004-2005 season. The current squad have of course been there and done it before on club football’s biggest stage and this experience could prove vital. If we stay injury free and move on from “Rieragate” then who would bet against the masters of the comeback? Istanbul alone proves that anything in football is possible. I think it will almost likely go down to the wire but despite Rafa’s promise of a fourth placed finish; it is no longer in our hands.

Mark Jepson








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