Manchester City look ready to win the title once again, with Pep Guardiola finally but firmly stamping his influence on the team. Effervescent attacking play, married with a tight defence, has created a formidable side; a side that only city rivals Manchester United have been able to match stride for stride so far this season. In a title race that should go down to the wire, City fans will be hoping the guidance of a man who has grown accustomed to success in his managerial career will be enough to fend off their great rivals.
Sergio Aguero’s recent involvement in a car accident is primarily saddening for the Argentine striker, who has begun the season in imperious form for City, but will inevitably have repercussions for how Guardiola will line his side up. United, meanwhile, are able to call on the prolific Romelu Lukaku who has settled into life at Old Trafford with ease. Yet City have standout performers throughout the side, and have overcome sterner opposition than a United team who are yet to face any genuine contenders for the race for European qualification this season.
Guardiola seems to be finally proving his doubters wrong. Of course, that will not have concerned the Spaniard one iota. Moreover, it seems bizarre that one of football’s great coaches would even have doubters. The boring assertions that Guardiola has had a managerial career handed to him on a plate can decisively be crushed by a quick look at Barcelona’s procession of coaches that have struggled to satisfy to the extent that Pep did, or by the dismissal of esteemed coach Carlo Ancelotti who has failed to deliver the imperious results that Guardiola achieved.
Bayern Munich have lost the fear factor, something that Manchester City now have in abundance. Where Munich seem fallible, even with such a dazzling array of stars at their disposal, City have steel in their mentality and an irrepressible verve to their attacking play. Admittedly, the fees spent to bring top players to the Etihad Stadium are undeniably exorbitant. Alas, that is the nature of life at Europe’s biggest clubs. Money is not equivalent to success, although it obviously can help a great deal. But in a league blessed with some impressive sides full of leading talents, it will take a canny manager to come out on top of the pile. Guardiola will be expecting nothing less than a title, and the side is currently looking like a team that can deliver on those ambitions.
The season started relatively inauspiciously for City, with a 2-0 victory over newly promoted Brighton the expected result but not by the expected margin. The subsequent 1-1 draw with Everton perhaps gave false expectations to fans of both clubs. City, although hamstrung by Kyle Walker’s early dismissal for… something, were already huffing and puffing and failing to blow down a resolute Everton who looked threatening on the counter. Sadly for Ronald Koeman, Everton have rarely looked that good since and are now wallowing in the lower reaches of the league as a result of insipid displays devoid of pace or coherent strategy.
City were unperturbed by the disappointment of points dropped in their first league home game, and have since gone from strength to strength. September saw a side clicking into top gear, with seven victories sealed and only one goal conceded. Perhaps surprisingly given the attacking calibre of opponent that they faced, that goal came from combative holding midfielder Claudio Yacob of West Bromwich Albion. Any sadness of conceding to such an unlikely source is tempered by the facts that this was the EFL Cup, and City ultimately prevailed through a brace of Leroy Sane goals.
A resolute defence has been welcomed with relief by the Etihad crowd. Far too often a laughing stock last season, with the likes of Claudio Bravo, John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi at various points figures of derision, Guardiola has now moulded a stern rearguard with some unlikely building materials. Perhaps the most crucial element is the foundation of the defence. Where Bravo came out and flapped at criticisms that he was inferior to Joe Hart, Ederson has come out confidently and punched those criticisms into touch.
Cynics will point out that you expect nothing less for £35 million, but the blue of Manchester, who will have been sneaking jealous and covetous glances across the city at David De Gea, now have a goalkeeping asset who could match the Spaniard’s reputation and ability. At 24 years old, Ederson is a baby in goalkeeping years. The traditional fears about how this poor Brazilian will cope with the physical demands of the Premier League have thankfully been forgotten, with Ederson deciding to convincingly prove this by taking Sadio Mane’s boot head on. His command of the area has been impressive, whilst his distribution has been intelligent.
Sterner tests await the goalkeeper, but he is already projecting an aura of confidence and competence. Considering the fairly makeshift nature of the defence in front of him, that is all the more noteworthy. The backline in the impressive 1-0 victory at Stamford Bridge is presumably not one that Guardiola would have anticipated fielding in such a crucial fixture, but it certainly worked. The central defensive duo of Stones and Otamendi have been reinvigorated this season, with the former showing a glimpse of his considerable potential and the latter reminding critics that he is a very talented player who actually had a career before he came to England.
The £50 million man Kyle Walker was at right-back, a player whose name at Tottenham nearly became synonymous with left-back Danny Rose as they delivered equilibrium to Spurs’ devastating attack. Only time will tell if Fabian Delph will develop into Walker’s new Rose. With the long-term injury of Benjamin Mendy, Delph appears to have emerged as an unlikely but serious candidate to fill in the left-back berth. Both him and Danilo would not be natural contenders to bring balance to the left-hand side of the defence; Danilo does have the fact that he is a full-back going for him, but Guardiola does love to eschew convention in favour of shoving midfield players where you might not expect them to fit.
City show their unity against Chelsea. Source: Manchester City via Facebook.
Invariably, it works. The tactical nous and the self-confidence to make those calls are what separates the Guardiolas from the England managers. Of course, England fans have had years of watching players shoehorned into incorrect positions, but the difference between how Guardiola manipulates formations could not be greater. Firstly, Guardiola is currently operating out of necessity rather than choice. Importantly, Guardiola has a clear way of playing that encourages tactical flexibility, and it is an ethos that his squad buy into wholeheartedly. To put it as kindly as possible, England do not have this.
It would not be surprising to see Delph put in a whole season of impressive performances at left-back to seal a starting spot in central midfield for England at the World Cup in the summer. While the national team manager has constraints in that Southgate cannot go out and spend £50 million on a midfielder, it would be typical of England to stubbornly select a player in a position that they haven’t occupied all season. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is another prime example; it would not be surprising to see Southgate disregard his starting position for Liverpool thus far and include him in the starting lineup rather than on the bench where he has done some adequate sitting this season already.
It was a former England manager who gave City one of their two 5-0 victories in September (the other 5-0 was against Liverpool, while City also delivered a 4-0 dismantling of Feyenoord and a 6-0 thrashing of Watford). Taking over at Crystal Palace is the epitome of a thankless task, especially in the short term. Having failed to register a point or a goal in the league, the timing was far from propitious from Roy Hodgson as his new side entered a somewhat tricky run of fixtures. A home tie against Southampton was probably earmarked as a kind fixture to ease Hodgson in, but a 1-0 defeat was not the best preparation for facing both Manchester clubs and Chelsea in consecutive league fixtures. City managed to outdo their city rivals by winning 5-0 compared to 4-0, but those results will have Chelsea salivating for their encounter after the international break.
Hodgson’s sides are usually nothing if not organised and dogged. After all, it was his competent stewardship that took England to positions where they could disappoint so significantly. However, defeat against a rampant City seemed as close to certainty as one can find in the unpredictable world of football. Pundits expected a rout, and they were vindicated; the betting preview by Oddschecker backed Manchester City to win to nil and by a margin of more than two goals, and those predictions proved correct in straightforward fashion. With an attack blessed with creativity and clinical finishing, it will not be the last time that City run riot against a defence in disarray.
While victories such as the comprehensive defeats of Palace and Watford were not surprises, although the latter were predicted to deliver more of a resistance, it is the triumphs against would-be title contenders in Liverpool and Chelsea that have marked Guardiola’s side as one that will go the distance in this campaign. The 5-0 defeat of Liverpool was made easier by Mane’s reckless red card in the first half; before that dismissal, City may have held a 1-0 lead but were looking vulnerable to Liverpool’s blistering pace. After that, it became a formality, albeit a formality that was very easy on the eye.
The 1-0 victory at Stamford Bridge is the one that will have given Guardiola most encouragement, and its timing just before the international break leaves City in the enviable position of topping the league for the next fortnight. Kevin De Bruyne, a former Chelsea player more in name rather than in experience, was a master at work. His reinvention as a deeper-lying playmaker worried many pundits as it negated the propulsion that he can deliver to swift counter-attacks. However, this element of his game has not disappeared. Rather, he has become more of an all-action midfielder, with his incisive vision and precise passing just as lethal from deeper positions as it is in tight situations around the opposing penalty area.
Kevin De Bruyne celebrates his winning strike against Chelsea. Source: Manchester City via Facebook.
David Silva has enjoyed a similarly stunning start to the season, with the Spaniard now bearing a physical resemblance to Stephen Ireland but a footballing resemblance to few others, such is the level that he is operating on. It will be interesting to see how City adapt in the longer-term to the absence of Sergio Aguero. The Argentinian had begun the season in prolific form, and had usurped Gabriel Jesus as the main man in a battle that Guardiola would have been thrilled to witness.
However, the stage is now set for Jesus to flourish. There will be increased pressure on the young Brazilian’s shoulders as he will now be relied upon to regularly produce goals in addition to contributing to build-up play, but Jesus has shown no signs of buckling under pressure in his City career thus far. Leroy Sane has come back into the team with a flurry of goals, the perfect response to being sidelined by Guardiola for the start of the season. It seems likely that Jesus and Sane will dovetail as a front two by name, but with a greater flexibility to drop deep and run wide than perhaps Aguero would have offered.
Manchester United are unlikely to go away without a fight, and the Manchester derby on December 9 could have dual significance in terms of bragging rights and supremacy at the top of the table. With Chelsea and Tottenham capable of staying the distance, Guardiola will have a tough task negotiating the resistance of the title challengers. There are a lot of experienced managers in the Premier League, but Guardiola’s convictions in his approach and his innovative tactical strategies could be the difference between challengers and champions.
5 reasons behind the Liverpool’s New Year slump
It has been a miserable 2017 for Liverpool fans. In the space of a month, Jurgen Klopp’s side have seen their title hopes dashed, EFL Cup semi-final defeat to Southampton, FA Cup elimination to Wolverhampton Wanderers and their top four hopes in doubt after defeats to both Hull City and Swansea City.
Jurgen Klopp famously described Liverpool’s 3-0 victory over Manchester City last season with the word ‘BOOM’. However, this season the only thing to go boom is Liverpool’s season which appears to be going up in smoke. Cup defeats to Wolves and Southampton have only been hampered by poor domestic form which has seen Liverpool eclipse three points out of a possible fifteen.
So far in the New Year, Roberto Firmino had eclipsed more points on his driving license than what Liverpool have over their ten matches as their european hopes dangle by a thread with fourteen crunch matches remaining.
Where has it all gone wrong for Liverpool after a season which began so brightly? A team tipped for the title are now well off the pace and in wretched form. Liverpool need to get back to winning ways and you can buy your Liverpool tickets from www.ticketpad.ie.
The fast free-flowing football that made Liverpool the most exciting team to watch in the Premier League has avoided them of late and been replaced by a predictable, slow and sluggish style.
Here are five areas which will have given Klopp a new year headache and which he hopes he can solve as soon as possible:
Sadio Mane: When the winger left for the African Cup Of Nations with Cameroon, Liverpool were second in the table and in a healthy position despite drawing 2-2 at Sunderland after beating Manchester City less than 48 hours earlier. Liverpool were well and truly in the title race.
However, if one player has epitomised the Liverpool style of play this season it is Sadio Mane. In his absence Liverpool have been void of any pace, width and creativity from the flanks. Mane has been missed dearly and Liverpool have paid the price. The six games without him have proved how valuable he is to the team. Liverpool will be delighted to have him back and will hope he gives them the impetus to turn their fortunes around.
Fatigue: Despite no European commitments it is remarkable that Liverpool played ten matches in January. During this time it has become evident that the high pressing and physical demands that Klopp expects are taking their toll. The likes of Nathaniel Clyne, James Milner and Adam Lallana look in desperate need of a rest and have been hampered by niggling injuries in recent weeks.
Key players like Philippe Coutinho, Joel Matip and Jordan Henderson have been missing for most parts which has not helped their cause. Fringe players have had to step up and a change of system has been required with Klopp opting to go for three men in the middle of midfield which frankly, hasn’t worked.
Following their disappointing defeat to Hull City, Liverpool have only two more games in February against high-flying Tottenham Hotspur and then have a sixteen day break before travelling to Leicester City. There are no two ways about it, Liverpool need six points and a much needed rest could benefit them.
Confidence: Liverpool’s confidence has taken a battering in 2017. They are out of the title race, out of the EFL Cup and humiliated in the FA Cup in the space of a week. Fans are becoming disgruntled as their top four credentials threaten to evade them also.
Emre Can, DivockOrigi and Loris Karius are three players who look totally void of confidence and right now, the shirt is wearing heavy on the shoulders of these young players.
Despite only winning one in ten, a bigger worry for Klopp is they have only scored six goals in their last nine games which has taken its toll on the likes of Origi and Daniel Sturridge.
It has been something of a rollercoaster for Reds fans. They regained some much needed confidence after a spirited draw against leaders Chelsea to stem the tide after three straight defeats. However, defeat to Hull sent them crashing back down to Earth with a bump.
Squad: In order for Liverpool to be considered genuine title contenders it has been highlighted that they need to strengthen their overall squad. Despite spending money in the summer, the club still lack any real strength in depth. Players like Daniel Sturridge, DivockOrigi and Emre Can have needed to step up when Coutinho, Adam Lallana and SadioMané were absent and they failed to do so.
Liverpool had the opportunity to invest during the January transfer window but failed to do any business, despite knowing they had no short-term replacement for Sadio Mane. Whether failing to add to squad in January will prove to be a costly mistake remains to be seen.
Klopp has put his trust in his young inexperienced backups like Trent Alexander-Arnold, OvieEjaria and Ben Woodburn who have little Premier League experience between them when it comes to the business end of the season.
Tactics: Teams have now adapted to Liverpool’s style of play and as a result, Liverpool lack an alternative. Against the top teams Liverpool have been fantastic and no team has picked up more points against the top six sides than Liverpool this season. However, it is against the so called, lesser opposition, the Reds have struggled.
Opponents are terrified of the gegenpress that they’re making sure it can’t happen by defending with ten men behind the ball, staying narrow and compact in order to force Liverpool wide and starve the creative players like Coutinho, Lallana from driving through the middle where they are most dangerous.
Plymouth, Southampton, Wolves, Swansea and Hull have all defended deep, frustrated Liverpool and caught them on the counter attack. Klopp needs to regather his troops and go back to the drawing board starting with a crunch match against Tottenham Hotspur at Anfield on Saturday 11th February.
The Reds only have two more matches to comprehend in February and it is imperative that they win both of them in order to regain some much needed confidence and get their season back on track.
How Difficult it is to predict the English Premier League Table – The Nostradamus Way
Football fanatics are abuzz with excitement because a new season of English Premier League has started! Like every season, the diehards will weigh the chances of their favourite clubs and try to be a Nostradamus in predicting their fates. Here at Goalden Times, Debojyoti Chakraborty digs deep to come up with a fairly easy and accurate forecasting model. Or is it? Read on to know more.
Knowing the Unknown, Seeing the Unseen
The urge to see the future is human nature. Thus, it’s not a coincidence that every football lover bets on, either literally or hypothetically, a team to win a tournament even before it has started. We are not talking about loyalty here. We are actually referring to a fan who chooses the winner based on logical deduction. Apart from the self-satisfaction or social recognition among friends, a true prediction brings in a wealth of fortune if translated correctly in the betting market. So, how difficult it is to logically derive any of these so-called forecasting models?
Simple Theories, Complex Route
A few readers might already be aware of various statistical models adopted by the scholars to arrive at some of the most accurate predictions across different spheres of life. Poisson regression (univariate as well as multivariate), trinomial distribution on stochastically balanced model, Bayesian analysis—these terms will excite many a researcher but will definitely bamboozle most football lovers. However, the basic approach for any such model remains more or less the same—predict the outcome of every match to arrive at the final league table. This in itself seems quite an exercise as it amounts to forecasting the result of 380 matches in a season. Various other factors are also considered, e.g., the expected number of goals to be scored in a match, the home team advantage, the home team’s offensive power, the opponent team’s defensive power, and a random factor. Some models are even more intricate as they drill down to the level of shots on target and tackles won per match, weather and pitch conditions during a particular fixture, the proximity to deadline of the transfer window, individual player’s form, fitness, injury concerns, and so on! In fact, even proven models from other spectrums of life, like Markowitz portfolio management that is used widely in stock trading, have been used to predict the outcome of football matches. Needless to say, predicting match outcomes is a complicated exercise indeed.
They Must be Accurate
After putting in so much time, effort, and money, it is, of course, imperative for the results to be accurate. Well, let’s embrace ourselves for a shocking truth.
The chart above shows how each game in the 2011–12 English Premier League season was predicted by using a very intensive model. The model was used by a famous betting house to determine the match odds. Naturally it was supposed to be one of the most accurate ones in order to maximize the agency’s profits. Probabilities of all the possible bets are plotted horizontally against the corresponding odds offered by the bookmaker (the vertical axis is a logarithmic one). Since only the feasible bets are included in the figure, each data point is above the diagonal. Green squares represent the winning bets and red ones stand for the losing bets. They seem to be quite evenly spread, don’t they? So the football enthusiast, the odd person passing by, or the bookmaker agency—no one seems to be very accurate in predicting match outcomes.
Start from Scratch
So, how good can we be in delivering one such predictive model with the least amount of data? Let us begin without digging up a lot of data points. Let us start from scratch, i.e., let us set aside all our pre-conceived notions of team strengths, past records, and financial muscle, and conclude that the English Premier League is a perfect example of a socialist society. In other words, let us assume that every team is equal and will finish with exactly the same points at the end of the season. What does that mean? It simply implies that all the 20 teams would end up securing the same position in the league table. That position or rank can be either at the top or bottom of the table (1 or 20), or at the middle of the road (10 or 11). Whatever it is, let us see how much variance we end up with.
The less the variance, the better it is. In a perfect predictive model, the variance will be zero. So, it makes much more sense to assume that every team will finish in the same mid-table position. From this point on, whatever model we must come up with, the variance should be lower than 25.89. We shall take data from the last five Premier League seasons (2010–11 onwards) and try to get as close as possible to the final results of the 2015–16 season.
One of the most basic parameters that I can think of at this stage is the previous season’s performance. What if we predict that the teams will finish this season in exactly the same place as the last season? It might sound a bit foolish, but think about it. How much difference do we see in the performance of the top-flight teams in two consecutive seasons? Keep in mind that we are talking about all the 20 clubs collectively here. It’s not about a single club anymore.
A look at the graph for the 2012–13 season reveals that this prediction would not have done too badly! Teams promoted from the Championship, Queens Park Rangers, for example, were predicted to secure the last three spots in the table, in order of their Championship season’s ranks. Even though the independent parameter (last season’s league rank) is quite crude and limited in terms of providing adequate informative data, the model showed a decent output with a variance of 17.61. Not bad to start off with!
What next then? Well, this decade has seen unprecedented financial muscle flexing by football clubs. An insane influx of money, a scarcity of quality strikers, and the simple rules of demand–supply—all have contributed to EPL clubs being the biggest spenders in world football. So, let us also take into account the cash flow of each team, i.e., money spent on transfers as well as money earned from them (seller club anyone?). Let’s note that free transfers are not considered here. Even though these freebies have played a crucial part in the team’s season outcome in some cases, I have followed the demand–supply principle here. If something is given out for free, then it’s not that good!
The results look a bit better, but it’s not that different from what we have already achieved. The variance has come down slightly, but there’s still a long way left to go.
So, what else can we take into account? Let us analyse the teams’ performance in the league once a number of matches have been played. After a few rounds in the tournament, squad depths get tested, reserve bench strengths are put to use, and sometimes the league takes a back seat. Now, for domestic cups, at least till the fag end, teams generally try out fringe and youth players so as not to hamper the clubs’ chances in the league. The top teams in the Champions League generally have much bigger and better teams for the tournament, which are also known as the first team squads. These teams are somewhat prepared to face the grinding matches twice a week and hence are likely to be least impacted by that. The actual problem arises for those poor souls who happen to be in the gruelling Europa League. A demanding travel itinerary, a never-ending schedule of matches, and frequent lack of financial motivation take a toll on their league performances. So, we took a look at the teams that participated in the Europa league and also took into account their progress in the tournament.
The predicted ranks are now starting to look a lot closer to the actual ones. The variance has come down quite a bit to 12.57—a whopping 51.44% reduction from where we started. That is as good as it can get at this stage.
Nostradamus Comes Out
So, let me try to put our model into action and predict the final league standing for the on-going season. As explained above, the model used takes into account three simple datasets as input parameter:
Last year’s league position
Net cash spent in the transfer market for the season
Number of rounds expected to be played in the Europa Cup in this season
As of now, we know that:
Southampton got knocked out in the qualifying round.
Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur are probably exiting in the round of 32 as they really do not give much importance to the competition. They are more focused on finishing in the top four in the EPL and gaining a Champions League spot.
So, the model is run and this is how the EPL 2015–16 table is predicted.
Now, this is far from a finished product and the prediction should be taken with a pinch of salt.
While the variance has been substantially low (12.57) from where it all started (25.89), there is still massive room for improvement.
The model has been unable to pinpoint the table position for each club. For the last five seasons, the model has been successful in predicting the final table position for only two to three clubs, on an average.
Having said that, the model has been quite accurate in predicting each club’s final position within three places of its eventual table rank.
As we are already a few matches into the season, it looks highly unlikely that Chelsea would be able to retain their crown based on their current form. However, this prediction does not take into account current season form—this is purely based on the data available before the first game week of the season.
If one happens to look at the following figures, the gradual evolution of the model will come clear.
As the model has absorbed more and more parameters, the variance has gone up slightly. In fact, with the two-parameter model, a fewer number of clubs finished within three places of their predicted ranks! However, this error was rectified with the latest model. The two-parameter model, however, scored heavily in the convergence, i.e., the potential to churn out more accurate predictions in the long run. For the time being, though, our three-parameter model seems to have a struck a reasonable middle ground—an acceptable variance and a decent convergence.
Needless to say, as we fit in more and more relevant parameters into the model, it will become more and more accurate. However, this will only come at the cost of added complexity. The principle of diminishing return of utility should dictate our actions here. Should we consider the impact of managerial change, injuries in the overall squad (or even key players), or difficult fixture at the start / end of the season? Can any of these parameters diminish the variance significantly? The search is endless. Considering the effort required to build up this model and the astounding proximity to the eventual final table in the last five seasons of EPL, this looks more than a decent proposition. Disagree? Please leave your comments. You never know, your thoughts may just be incorporated in our next predictive model!
England, a perennial underachiever in the international stage, had long hailed its league system as the best. But even the English clubs have failed to make any impact in the continental front in recent years. Apoorv Upadhye looks at the issue of nurturing young talents in England and how to revolutionize the system here at GOALden Times
The Kid Arrives
10th March 2007, that boy from Rosario scored a wonderful hat-trick in probably the biggest match of the year, El Clásico. People wondered how a 19-year-old boy could get into a Barcelona team boasting a bunch of superstars. Today we might wonder what would have happened if that boy from Rosario wasn’t given a chance so early in his life but it wasn’t happenstance.
Are you a Foreigner?
Question arises, why we haven’t seen such magisterial players coming through in the English Premier League. Arguably most of the greatest players of all time in the English Premier League have been bought from the other foreign leagues.In the recent past players like Dennis Bergkamp became a superstar coming in from Inter Milan, Didier Drogba was bought from Marseille, Fernando Torres came in from Atletico Madrid, Thierry Henry from Juventus and Claudio Makelele from Real Madrid. Then we have someone like Ben Arfa – not in the same league as those mentioned above, but still, as soon as he came into EPL, he was tagged as one of the best dribblers in the league, although eventually he could not fulfil his potential. The point is how easily these foreign players – some world class, some very good, some not worth a place in the first team – can walk into the Premier League sides. Why don’t we come across a Sunday League player being given a chance to become a potential superstar?
Catch them Young
This is the huge difference that prevails between England and other countries with better planned league system.Lionel Messi – the boy from Rosario – emerged from La Masia. Rather than being part of the reserve team, he played for Barcelona C. He netted five goals in 10 appearances as a 16-year-old boy.Soon he was promoted to Barcelona B playing in Liga Adelante. Not only did he perform exceptionally well, he was getting the much needed match practice to toughen him up. Eventually he got promoted to FC Barcelona first team at the mere age of 16.As of now, he is considered as the greatest player of our generation.
Lionel Messi – the boy from Rosario – emerged from La Masia. Rather than being part of the reserve team, he played for Barcelona C
The question is not how Messi,a once in a lifetime talent, developed himself, but what is the system used by FC Barcelona to foster such talents and give them the needed experience. So, when we look at the structure of England and Spain – having quite contrasting success level at the international stage in this millennium – we observe a lot of dissimilarities that explains the way both teams have fared in World Cups and Euros in recent past.
Fulham FC, Barcelona and Real Madrid – a case study
Fulham FC were relegated from the Barclays Premier League after the 2013-2014 season and finished at a lowly 17th position in the Championship this season. On the other hand, their youth team ranks amongst top five in the last three years in the U21 English League. But even with so much success, those players were not given a chance to play in the senior team. If these U21 players got a chance to play in the Championship, they would have definitely developed much better and would have been readier to take a giant leap ahead towards the competitiveness of senior level football.
Spain’s major clubs have their own ‘B’ team playing in lower tiers. This way the reserve players in the club get the opportunity to shine and get exposed to competitive football.And the results are not that bad! Barcelona B, currently playing in Liga Adelante, generally finishes in the top half of the table although this season they are languishing in the relegation spots.Eventually, the good ones are selected to appear for FC Barcelona first team – albeit gradually, starting with domestic cup matches. This process not only helps the youngsters to integrate well into the main team, but also keep the first team regulars on their toes due to increased competition for first team places. Real Madrid also have their own ‘B’ team and have been churning out young world class talents for quite some time now.
In the last decade the average age of a player making his debut in the Premier League has risen from 19 to 22. It is well known in football circles how reserve team football has become unconditionally non-competitive. With the Premier League starting the U21 competition, it was hoped that this would see clubs retaining their best talents in their formative years but that hasn’t really happened. Players emerging from the reserve teams are unable to meet the desired standards of the first team. Clubs are finding it easy to replenish the stock of quality footballer by buying a ready-made product rather than going through the hassles of nurturing a talent through the rigors of a lower league where the success rate is bound to be very low. However the benefit of B teams,sometimes known as the feeder teams, playing in competitive leagues are many.Most importantly, it would give young players at clubs the chance to play competitive football week in and week out, using the same style and strategy adopted by the first team. In turn, this will definitely help them get integrated better in the first team when they get a call.
Numbers don’t lie
If we look at the mecca of talents, FC Barcelona, the number of first team players in 2013-14 who came through after playing in the B team was 68%. A look at the number of players playing in the league who come through the youth system of the clubs in the respective countries, the contrast couldn’t be starker.La Liga has over twice (77%) as many home-grown players compared to England’s 32% – a figure the FA is aware of and which continues to decrease season after season.
Of course, B-teams are not the only answer to the problems young British footballers face in getting first team football, nor it is the single solution to fix the national team.Generally, many young talented players in Reserve teams are not from England.But for the few that do get to play, it is disappointing how few of the England U21’s are regular starters at their clubs compared to most other countries, especially those nations whose systems allow B-teams to play in lower leagues. Playing regular first team football can only quicken their progress, and in turn help the national teams, but alas!
In the 2009 Under-21 European Championship final Germany trounced England by 4-0. The only player from England’s 23-man-squad in 2014 World Cup to have played in that 2009 final was James Milner. On the contrary, eight German players from that final were part of the 2014 World Cup winning squad.The likes of Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana, Raheem Sterling and Ross Barkley had not played in a major tournament at under-21 level, with the latter three playing less than 10 games at that age group.
The Pros and Cons
The biggest advantage of having the B team in the Championship, rather than sending players out on loans is that players will adapt to the style of the main team. But in England, this cannot be taken for granted as the B teams, often, do not play with the same style as that of the main team.The problem is with the mentality. In Spain, B teams are the last step in nurturing a talent before deploying him in the first team. In England, B team is only a reserve team for players who cannot get into the main team.
Andre Villas-Boas has been critical of the poor reserve system in English football. He, when at Chelsea, believed that a new system should at least be tested throughout the English leagues. There is still a lack of competitiveness. Very few fans turn out to watch these games and they are considered more of friendlies than league matches.Chelsea ex-reserve team coach Dermot Drummy, Manchester United executive vice-chairman Edward Woodward, David Moyes, Andre Villas-Boas have all voiced their opinions supporting the B team system, but it is up to the Football Association to implement the suggestion.
Playing youth in a team involves an amount of risk. It may cost the team a title but in the long run will present the nation more full-fledged long serving international players. Teams in Spain or especially in Germany emphasizes on their home grown or national players. Most premier league club are owned by rich (foreign) business men who perceive their club to be a profit-seeking endeavor. They want to see their team dominate the league, and in some cases, even Europe. Owners of Manchester City or Chelsea have historically splashed out cash and they have had one point agenda – just WIN.
The (False) Dawn
But things are changing. Due to UEFA Financial Fair Play rules, clubs can not spend whimsically without balancing their books. Under pressure, Manchester City hired former Barcelona technical director Txiki Begiristain to oversee a complete makeover of their club image with the aim of making it as famous as Barcelona. Chelsea, too, are using their good scouting network to great effect to buy young player with potential from all over world at a reasonable price.But the problem is that these fringe players are often sent out on loan where they learn to play in a completely different environment and style. The parent club cannot dictate the tactics the club being loaned to must use. No doubt, it gives the players more game time but more often than not they return as a misfit to the parent club. Trying to develop young players through loans does not always work. When they come back, if they have performed well, clubs do not think twice before encashing on their good showing. Chelsea sold Romelu Lukaku, Kevin De Bruyne for combined profit of €27 million. Teams in Spain too sell their best player and buy some cheap alternatives or youth as replacements. German teams cannot afford too much of wages. They value their youth academy and player also put release clause in their contract.
If the perfect fit and team is found for a player, they can get significant amount of playing time at a decent level, but finding that fit is not nearly as easy as it might seem, and history is filled with instances of seemingly capable players getting loaned and then barely ever playing. While England’s clubs maintain “reserves” teams, the quality of play is too hit-or-miss and the matches far too sporadic to use as a proper development tool.
Needless to say, this loan system is not very productive. It benefits only the two clubs involved in the loan of a young player, not the player himself (or the country). The parent club wants to keep their fringe player engaged so that he does not crib about warming the bench, as well as reduce their wage bills. The lower league club is not interested in developing the player long term and only want the player to fill the immediate need. However, if the club is given some incentive to develop the player that might augur well for all the involved parties. That can be some bonus payment if the player appears for a certain number of times in the first team next season, or providing them with some share of future sale price, or even selling the player outright with an exclusive right to buy the player back at a price that would be related to the performance.
Hitches – to be fixed
The FA has recognized the shortage of home grown talent recently and has been trying to refurbish the youth and reserve leagues. In 1999 they introduced the Premier Reserve League. But the league failed to provide the players with a competitive format. It was a million miles off the Premier League. After all, the system to be implemented is not as simple as it looks. England is a country with more than 150 teams already playing League football, Sunday League, and many more. How to involve them to have a youth league, which teams should be invited to play and which teams should be mandated to play, how the different tier systems will work – there are quite a few complications.It will definitely add more burden – financially and logistically – especially for lower league clubs and they are not likely to give it their nods, but it is the duty of FA to iron out these problems.
The only way FA can introduce the B teams is by inducting them at the lowest league level as a new team rather than giving them the privilege of starting automatically in a higher league. FA can also create a flexible system between the main team and the B team for mutual player exchange – this will become more prominent as the B teams get promotion and starts playing at a much higher level. In Spain, players such as Munir El Haddadi, Sergi Samper and Sandro find themselves shuttling between Barcelona B and FC Barcelona. This helps the main team deal with their injury crisis or suspension issues better. Young players are provided with an opportunity to play in the first team and get better groomed. On the other hand, there is also provision to send back youth players to the B team if the B team’s performance starts dipping alarmingly due to his absence.
With every change brought in the system, there are pros and cons. People are terrified that getting B teams of big clubs to play in lower leagues will somehow wipe away smaller English clubs.And that makes a degree of sense; having big clubs buy out smaller clubs or forcing B teams in to existing league setups without structural amendments would have a detrimental effect. This proposal, however, one that puts the B teams alongside the current leagues without truly disrupting them, should achieve a happy medium that eventually satisfies everyone.
Irrespective of the cons, for the Premier League and Championship squads having B teams, the prosare obvious. Significant competitive minutes for young players and under-utilized fringe first teamers would be a major plus.Besides, keeping academy graduates who are not yet good enough for the first team in a club-controlled training environment for as long as possible can only be a good thing when the time comes to integrate them into the first team.
Belgium might be the best example any aspiring nation – and England –can learn from.Belgium once used to languish very low in the FIFA ranking and did not have any presence in World Cup or Euro main rounds for a couple of decades. Slowly they introduced a flexible system to support the player’s growth and transform them into better players.One must remember that passion is what drives the game and the motto should be to spread the game as wide as one can. English players lack in technique, no doubt, but the clubs too fail to instil any desire or true commitment within them. Some other countries have preferred to create a cut throat top league and have attained moderate success.However this system has a major problem, as it narrows down the talent at one big place at the cost of smaller clubs, which are the backbone of any strong footballing country.
So, as tempting as it might sound for its ease of implementation, this idea of having a league with less number of clubs surely cannot work. Within that framework B teams do not seem to have a place. In Spain and Germany most of the big clubs’ B teams play competitively most of the time.But every now and then– late in season against those chasing promotion or fighting relegation–they understandably cannot match the determination of their rivals. This seems unavoidable and must be tolerated and accepted. After all, B teams’ main functionality is to groom players, not to be judged based on their silver wares.
In the end, it is a complex proposal to get through, but it at least appears to be an effective one. With more roster spots for players, more money for the leagues, clubs, and FA to be had, and more development opportunities for home-grown players, everyone involved wins. The fans of smaller clubs would be more difficult to convince of the advantages this system, but given time they could come around. The change could do a lot to take England towards the top of the pile, both at the club and international levels.
Pulis and Palace
Just when the English Premier League was about to kick start, manager Tony Pulis parted ways with Crystal Palace. This came as a shock to the followers of English football as he seemed to have done nothing wrong which would justify this change. Naman Mehradiscusses the dynamics which prompted the change here at Goalden Times.
For many, Tony Pulis is the shrewd and tactically sharp mastermind who oversaw the rise of Stoke City FC, a club known for their physical play and giving big opponents a run for their money. Pulis took relegation favourites Stoke City to 12th place in the league, to their first ever FA cup final and to European football, achievements which earned him the accolade of being Stoke City’s greatest ever manager from chairman Peter Coates. But “creative differences” with the board led to him quitting the club at the end of 2012-13 season.
Crystal Palace, a London side stuck in the championship for 8 years in a row, returned to the top tier of English football in the 2013-14 season,thanks to Ian Holloway and Manchester United loanee Wilfred Zaha. However, things didn’t really go according to plan. After 12 games in the league, Palace’s record read Won 1 Drawn 1 Lost 10.
On 23rd November 2013, Pulis took over at Palace, another side that was widely expected to be relegated. Some decent deadline day signings in the January transfer window and a change in tactics led to a remarkable turn-around. Among other good results, Crystal Palace won at Goodison Park, beat Chelsea at home and came back from 3-0 down against title-challengers Liverpool to grab a point. April saw Palace win 5 games on the trot owing to which Pulis was awarded manager of the month award. Ultimately, Palace finished 11th in the league, their 3rd best performance in the top-flight. A brilliant managerial performance earned Pulis the ‘Manager of the Season’ award and yet, 3 months later, 2 days before the new season, Tony Pulis quit as the manager of the London Club. This was among the biggest surprise exits of the summer, one which made many people wonder if the club or coach were to blame for this falling out.
As expected, neither side really came out and provided details on what led to the best manager of previous season quit just 2 days before another season kicked off. The most widely accepted theory, however, is the strenuous relationship between the coach and Palace co-chairman Steve Parish. Parish is a lifelong Crystal Palace fan and is known for being a very passionate owner. He took over the club, when it was in administration, and is a huge fan favourite as well.
One of the foremost issues relating to Pulis-Palace dispute was issue over transfer funds. The lack of transfer activity and the influence of Parish in transfers, apparently, neither went down well with Tony Pulis. Pulis has always liked to have had the final say in any deals but his authority was undermined quite regularly throughout the summer and the presence of a sporting director at the club (Iain Moody) did not help matters either . There are many who believe lack of money to spend made Pulis question Palace’s ambitions.
Failure in signing transfer targets of Pulis, notably Steven Caulker and Gylfi Sigurdsson, who joined Queens Park Rangers and Swansea City respectively, and Parish’s fixation on re-signing Man Utd’s Zaha, is said to be the final nail in the coffin. Tony Pulis was sceptical about Wilfred Zaha, raising questions about his character but was overruled in the best interests of the club. Pulis had made his mind set on leaving according to his friends and when talks with Parish over dinner broke down on August 14, 2014, there was only one outcome.
Another aspect suggests that Tony Pulis was tempted by a bigger club. After an excellent season, he was definitely sought-after, though it is worth noting that there were no vacancies in the English Premier League when Pulis resigned. As things have panned out, no manager has been sacked hence, which suggests either talks broke down or there might be something on the horizon in the near future. Crystal Palace, on the other hand, re-appointed experienced English manager, Neil Warnock (First spell as manager of Palace was from 2007-2010). Their start has not been encouraging though with Palace conceding twice in injury time to drop points. They are yet to register a win in the league and ar reeling with only two points from first four matches.
One wonders if there was anyone to blame for all this. Tony Pulis has always been a proud man and his performances have always deserved respect. For a manager taking over at relegation-threatened sides, Tony Pulis’s sides have never been relegated. Steve Parish on the other hand, runs his club with the viewpoint of a fan and Palace did manage 9 signings in the summer, include fan favourite Zaha, experienced Brede Hangeland, Martin Kelly and James McArthur. Ultimately, it is the fans that were denied the opportunity to see where Pulis could lead this Palace side after an amazing start with them. Tony Pulis too would have had a different challenge, with the pressure of repeating last season’s performance and possibly doing better. Also, at the helm of a team with youngsters who have top flight experience, Pulis would have had better resources at his disposal. Unfortunately though, this turned into another case of football folklore’s What Ifs.
EPL 2013/14 Mid-Season Analytics
Just as the final half of the most fiercely competitive season of Premier League history gets under way, we at ‘Goalden Times’ built our own prediction model and tried to envisage the possible champion of 2013/14 season.
Predictive models use historic data to identify and quantify patterns and trends that can be used to predict future behaviour. Let us see how we can predict the champion of this season’s English Premier League based on half-yearly performance trend of last 10 years. Last decade was clearly dominated by the big houses – Manchester United & Chelsea FC with some rare success for Arsenal & Manchester City. But what makes these teams successful? We did a year-by-year analysis covering as many as 20 different parameters that could indicate performance and likelihood to win the competition. Before going into details, let’s have a gaze over current league standings.
Analysis of English Premier League – Methodology
To implement the predictive analysis following steps are followed –
Analysis of match-by-match historic data for past ten years (since 2003/04 Season) and defining numerous key parameters that could indicate a causal relation towards winning the league.
The following parameters were defined and their contributions towards identifying league leaders were measured based on historical statistics. The results are as follows – 
All these parameters were then assigned a strength based on their ability to identify the league winner. The worst prediction by any of the parameters was a team finishing fourth in the league table, in any season under our analysis. If a parameter predicted winner correctly, then it was assigned a weightage of 0.7. For being runner up, weightage comes down to 0.3. Weightage even becomes negative, -0.3 and -0.7, for wrongly predicting a team as champion which happened to finish third or fourth in the final standing. By this practice, five strongest parameters were identified which will be the key metrics driving the predictive model.
Some of the parameters have shown some interesting characteristics – like the last one called “Rough Play”. It reiterates the fact that the winning team should have a killer instinct, they should be willing to commit tactical, or time-to-time genuine fouls (taking one for the team). However, out of top four teams, often the third and fourth placed teams committed less fouls, or were booked or sent off lesser times. Making “Rough Play” a weak indicator for champions!
Then the values of these parameters were calculated for all clubs during mid-year (December end) and tested them on mid-year data to see how accurate these parameters were in the past. We have found an accuracy of 80%.
After analyzing each team’s performances until 16th gameweek of 2013-14 season, the same parameters predict Manchester City scoring maximum and most likely to be the winner of 2013-14 Premiere League and the forces are heavily in favour of them. Liverpool and Arsenal are second and third favourites to win this trophy. In spite of the fact that Arsenal are actually leading the table right now, they are much less likely to win the trophy.
Final Prediction: The aforesaid Prediction Model and Analytics of last 10 years data indicates that the probable winner of this season will be Manchester City.
Football is a special game and we know that one moment of magic, one piece of individual brilliance or one wrong decision can turn a result upside down. We can only validate the accuracy of the model at the end of this season. Till then, enjoy the beautiful game.
Note : The parameters that were used in our predictive model are explained below
Home Goal Ratio: Goals scored / goals conceded per home match
HT Retention: When a team was able to hold its half-time result for the second half while winning.
Win ratio against other top clubs: How many matches a club won out of total played against other top four clubs.
HT Performance: Goals scored before half-time/ match for both home & away
Away Goal Ratio: Goals scored / goals conceded per away match
FTHG/match: Full time Home goals scored per match
FTAG/match: Full time away goals scored per match
HT Reversal: When a half time result was reverted resulting in either a win or a loss
Home Goals Conceded / match: Self explanatory
Propensity to convert to win - All those matches where the club was able to convert a halftime lead / stalemate into a win by fulltime.
Team Accuracy - How many shots are on target for a team out of all shots taken
Rough Play - A negative attribute which counts how many fouls, Red & Yellow cards were conceded by the players of a team.
Premier League 2013-14: Mid-Season Review
We have come halfway through the English top division football. As always, there has been drama, controversies, allegations and thrills. And off course, some enthralling football. Sometimes nail-biting, sometimes sensational, sometimes drab but more often than not entertaining. Naysayers’ most publicized league has definitely been the most competitive one in ages. Tighten your seat belts as Debojyoti Chakraborty takes you in a recap journey of the league so far.
After the 2013-14 English Premier League season preview, here comes the mid-season review. By and large teams playing top-flight football in England have played as per the predictions. But Arsenal, Everton and Liverpool have surpassed my expectations. On the other hand, Manchester United’s woe seems to find a new low with every week. Let us look back how the season has gone and what we can look forward to.
Arsenal sit at the top of the table as this article is written. The league table is congested but Arsenal have been there for majority of the season. And they are there for a reason. Professor’s young and nurtured midfield is coming of age with Aaron Ramsey leading the pack. With the strong statement made by the signing of Mesut Ozil, the Gunners are right on track for claiming the crown after a decade long wait. They look defensively astute as well with Per Mertesacker marshalling the backline to most number (9) of clean sheets. If they can keep Olivier Giroud fit for the remainder of the season or find a suitable back-up for him in the transfer window, their wait could be over.
They are touted as the team of the season and possible champions. They would have been miles ahead of the pack had it not been for their awful away form. Yet to drop a point at home, Manchester City have been miserable, to say the least, on their travels – only one draw and one win out of their first six away fixtures. Why it is so, well, have been discussed in detail in my earlier article. But there are signs of improvement. Return of club captain Vincent Kompany and midfield maestro David Silva from injury has turned their fortunes. They are at their best while attacking, with most number (57) of goals scored in the league and 11 times netting three or more goals in a match. And as Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers has put it “…the title is Manchester City’s to lose”.
Drama was expected with the return of the Special (Happy) One and Jose Mourinho has not disappointed. His post-match interviews are as interesting – or more – as any match. As always, Mourinho has made his team look compact on the pitch. With the plethora of attacking talent at his disposal in the midfield area, Chelsea is more soothing to the eye this season. But lack of clinical strikers upfront may just cost them the title.
Liverpool were on top of the table on X-mas day and it ignited a spur among their loyal fans – who have been long overdue – with jokes flooding social networking sites (“Where is my scarf mama? “It is on top of the table”). Next game results saw them dropped to 4th. This is just a true reflection of the league this year – competitive. Liverpool are playing a good brand of football, Brendan Rodgers has inflicted some steel to the team and the owners have been patient with him. But it is not incorrect to say that Liverpool are carried on his shoulders by one person – Luis Suarez. After being suspended for the first five matches for biting Branislav Ivanovic last season, Suarez has netted 20 goals in 15 matches. He has failed to score in five matches and not surprisingly Liverpool has managed to get a total of one point out of those matches. In matches where he has scored, Liverpool have dropped only two points. But their thin squad may pull them back towards the final run and if they again miss out on Champions League football, it could be doomsday for them.
With the departure of long serving manager David Moyes in the summer, Roberto Martinez took over at the Goodison Park. While he had done wonders in the cup matches, many were sceptical about his capabilities in a league running over nine months. Well, he has silenced all his critics. Even with club captain and the best left-back in the country Leighton Baines sidelined by injury for nearly one-third of the campaign, Everton have the best defensive record in the league – second least number of goals conceded and least number of matches lost (only 2 out of 20). Martinez deserves more credit for changing the style of Toffees’ play – rather than direct, he has brought in silky but effective passing in their game. Ross Barkely certainly has been the young player of the league and he is showing no signs of stopping. Things are looking good for a European spot next season.
What happened to Spurs? As the pun pointed out, sum of a number of moderate things put together need not necessarily compensate for one world-class performer. With as many as 7 new players coming in at the expense of Gareth Bale’s world record setting transfer to Real Madrid, it was always going to be difficult how Andres Vilas Boas can galvanize the team. But AVB’s never ending tweaking with formations, tactics and starting XI, his unimaginative style of play and his inexplicable high line coupled with lethargic tempo to the game brought his own downfall. Subsequently coach Tim Sherwood, a former player and captain of the Blackburn Rovers’ Premiership winning side in 1995, has taken over. He is not doing too bad either with only two points dropped in the first four matches in charge. But his inexperience may prove to be critical and Tottenham do not look to go beyond Europa League spots.
Things were meant to be different. Things were meant to be tough and Sir Alex Ferguson asked for patience from the fans in his farewell speech. In hindsight, he might have known that he is not handing over a good, leave alone great, side to David Moyes. Then came the transfer window debacle where United failed to capture their targets and their rivals got stronger. And with the air of invincibility gone, many a team have registered their first ever win or win after ages at the Old Trafford. With FA Cup exit and a top-four finish fast eluding the Red Devils, Moyes needs to start thinking for the next season as early as January. How things have changed at Manchester!!!
After a horrendous Premier League campaign last season, partly due to the torturous Europa League schedule, Newcastle United are back on track. They have created a decent gap with teams below them and look poised to continue their good work. Alan Pardew is currently the second longest serving Premier League manager behind Arsene Wenger. And his experience showed when he shifted to 4-3-3 from 4-4-2 at the expense of charismatic and fan-favourite Hatim Ben Arfa. A decent top half of the table finish is on the cards.
Less than a year with the club, manager Mauricio Pochettino shocked everyone when he announced his ambitions of finishing in the top 4. To his credit, he managed to keep Southampton there till the start of November. But a sudden dip in form has seen the Saints collecting only five points from a possible 27. But it cannot be denied they are playing one of the most free-flowing football in the league. This is a good advert for the league. Pochettino though has to realign his ambitions and cling on to a top half finish.
Hull City have been in the news over the controversy of their owners trying to force a name change to Hull Tigers drawing the wrath of supporters. But in the field, the Steve Bruce managed side has been making the right moves. Working with a shoestring budget, Bruce has brought in Tottenham duo of Tom Huddlestone and (on loan) Jake Livermore, which has proven to be a masterstroke. Having already scalped Liverpool, Hull would look for similar sort of results to hang on to a top half finish in their comeback season in Premier League.
Aston Villa started the season on grand style by beating Arsenal. But they have been hit hard by the injury of front man Christian Benteke. Even though they have triumphed Manchester City en route but goals in general have eluded them. A lower half finish is achievable if their defence can hold fort.
After the appointment of Mark Hughes, Stoke city is slowly going through a transition. Even with the likes of Peter Crouch in their ranks, Stoke is keener to pass the ball around and build up play rather than try long balls. They have scrapped some good results at the Britannia Stadium like draw against Manchester City, Everton and win against Chelsea. But they would do well not to be drawn into the relegation dogfight.
Like Newcastle last year, Swansea is this year’s victim of taxing Europa League fixtures. With games coming thick and fast, and injury list growing by each game, it has been a nightmare for Michael Laudrup. Swans have looked exhausted, more mentally than physically, and have faltered in critical moments. They have conceded crucial goals and missed golden opportunities and they are 16 points and seven places behind Tottenham – even if both the teams have scored (26 and 24) and conceded (28 and 25) similar number of goals. Beating Manchester United in the FA Cup might give them the push to surge ahead. And with talismanic striker Michu expected to come back from injury soon, don’t rule out the Swans for a shot at top half finish.
West Bromwich Albion
Apart from beating Manchester United away after a gap of 36 years, the Baggies could manage only 3 more wins. A usual mid-table team, that too now without a manager, they would be dragged into relegation battle sometime or the other; but they might just survive.
After couple of strong seasons back into the top flight of English football, the Canaries are feeling the heat this time. Life would be even tougher in the later stages of the league as teams get desperate for every point.
Another mediocre side staying up for too long in the top flight of English football. Their fixtures produce results – only one of their matches has been drawn – but more often than not, the Cottagers find themselves on the wrong end of it. With the worst defensive record in the league (42 goals conceded), this might be relegation time for them.
Controversies have dominated Cardiff City’s season so far. First, jersey colour change by the owner, billionaire Malaysian Vincent Tan, has seen the Bluebirds appear in red attire in home matches. Then their tough campaign became even tougher with the sacking of fan-favourite manager Malky Mackay. Apart from winning the Welsh derby against Swansea and stunning Manchester City in a 3-2 thriller, Cardiff have no memorable moment so far. And it does not look likely that newly appointed manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer can add to that.
Having scored the least number (13) of times so far in the league, Crystal Palace’s problem area is clear – up front. Their defence is not too bad but failing to find the net have meant they have lost more often than taking something home. New manager Tony Pulis has initiated a mini revival by collecting four wins and 13 points from nine matches. But he knows that he has a tough job at hand.
West Ham United
Life back in the top flight has not been smooth sailing for Sam Allardyce, the Big Sam. Hampered by the absence of front man Andy Carrol, Hammers are on a downhill slide taking only two points out of seven matches since December. They can thank shot-stopper Jussi Jääskeläinen – baring his heroics West Ham would have been in deeper trouble. Another manger seems to be on firing line but even that may not be enough for survival.
There seems to be no light at the Stadium of Light. Black Cats are languishing at the bottom of the table and even a change in manager did not do much to ignite any hope. But this season the league is tight, a couple of wins can pull them up above the drop zone. Even then, survival would be tough come the end of season.
To cap it all, the league is still wide open. Only two points separate the top three. I shall put my neck out and say it will be either Chelsea or Arsenal. Manuel Pellegrini might just lose out in the final lap to his counterparts, only two managers with Premier League title to show for in their CV.
And it is not only at the top, the league is tight throughout – 9th place Southampton is only 10 points above safety. So brace yourself as (truly) the most competitive league in Europe enters its business end. We at Goalden Times will be with you through out this journey. Match of the season – Merseyside derby: Everton 3 – Liverpool 3
Controversy of the season – AVB continuing with Lloris after a head injury sustained during the match against Everton. He was forced to rest Lloris in the next game on the advice of Spurs medical team. AVB kept on defending himself saying all the decisions were taken by the medical staff.
Fantasy Team of the season:
Wojciech Szczesny (Arsenal); Seamus Coleman (Everton), Per Mertesacker (Arsenal), John Terry (Chelsea), Leighton Baines (Everton); Eden Hazard (Chelsea), Aaron Ramsey (Arsenal), Yaya Touré (Manchester City), Mesut Özil (Arsenal); Luis Suárez (Liverpool), Sergio Agüero (Manchester City)
Substitues – Jussi Jääskeläinen (West Ham United); Kyle Walker (Tottenham Hotspur), Martin Skrtel (Liverpool); Steven Gerrard (Liverpool) Adam Lallana (Southampton); Wayne Rooney (Manchester United), Romelu Lukaku (Everton)
English Premier League – Mid Term Review
With just 16 or so games to go, the premier league season is reaching an exciting phase, which will go a long way in deciding which teams fight for the Championship and a top-4 place and which teams will battle it out for survival in the league. Krishnendu Sanyal brings to you a mid-season review of all the 20 teams in the Premier League
With just more than half the league season completed, the Barclays Premier League is taking a nice shape with about four months of exciting football still left to be played. The league title seems Manchester bound with the red-half of the city in pole position, but don’t count out City to make a late charge, as they did last season and surprise United. The battle for the other two slots of the top-4 is getting more interesting with each round of games played, with at least four teams – Tottenham, Chelsea, Everton and Arsenal, fighting for two remaining lucrative Champions League places. And as always, the relegation scrap always turns out to be the most interesting aspect of the league this season. QPR was looking dead and buried but with the appointment of Harry ‘Houdini’ Redknapp, a few recent results and some smart transfer dealings in January, they might give a last gasp fight to save themselves from relegation.
The League Table:
Just when you think, Arsenal has turned a corner; they get a result like Bradford in the Capital One Cup. Arsenal’s season can be summed up in one word – inconsistent. Some brilliant football laced with some mediocre performances has never really allowed Arsenal’s season to take-off at any point of the season.
Santi Cazorla is turning out to be an inspired piece of business by Arsene Wenger. He is making Arsenal’s midfield tick and has even chipped in with a few goals. A lot will depend on how he, along with Jack Wilshere and Mikael Arteta, perform in the latter part of the season. Theo Walcott is in a great goal scoring form, and the behind-the-scenes contract ramblings with Walcott is one distraction Arsenal could have lived without this season.
Finishing in the top-4 will be one of Wenger’s greatest achievements with this squad.
Villa’s new manager Paul Lambert took a decision (out of necessity) to ‘stick with the kids this season. They had a poor start to the season and the lack of experience was visible in the squad. They made a little recovery in the middle but again got into a rout of poor results. Mid-table was something Lambert was aiming at the start of the season but now it seems like a relegation dogfight for them. Can he add some experience to the squad in the January is a question that might make or break Villa’s season.
Christian Benteke dominates the headlines with some of his performances. Goalkeeper Bryan Guzan, defender Matthew Lowton and midfielder Ashley Westwood has caught the eye but it is the emergence of young Nathan Baker as the fulcrum of the back-four that has really been Villa’s saving grace.
It seems like a relegation dogfight for them.
Chelsea started the season with mesmerizing creative play and swagger but it was followed by utter disarray and elimination from the Champions League in the group stages, becoming the first ever defending champions to do so. Roberto Di Matteo, the first Chelsea manager to win the European Cup, was sacked after a few poor results and elimination from the Champions League and Rafa Benitez, former Liverpool manager and the one most Chelsea fans love to hate was appointed ‘interim’ manager for the rest of the season. Currently they lie third in the table, 13 points from the top. Catching up with the Manchester duo is still not impossible but in the current run of form, it seems highly improbable.
Juan Mata is turning out to be the heartbeat of this Chelsea squad. A brief moment of Mata’s brilliance on the field can lighten up any soul. He brings much more than just goals, assists and creativity to this Chelsea team. He is the creative center of the Chelsea team, but he could do with some help. Eden Hazard’s early season form has petered off, while it is too early to pass a judgment, but Hazard needs to do much more to justify the fan-fare around him. Fernando Torres is having another poor season. A few goals here and there, hasn’t really done much for his confidence and his general play has been disappointing.
Rafa’s appointment hasn’t gone down well with the Chelsea football and there is a general discontent at Stamford Bridge this season. Top four is the best they can hope for this season.
After a long while Everton has shaken-off their tag of perennial slow starters. With a win against Manchester United at Goodison Park, Everton started their campaign brilliantly. Everton was always a hard team to beat at home but this season they have won four on the road and that has propelled them to the fifth position in the league above Arsenal and has made them real contenders for a top four position.
David Moyes has reinvented Everton’s style of play this season and has been astute in the transfer market, as always. Anything but a top six place will be a disappointment for Everton this season.
Fulham had a good start to their season by their standards. Their home form is keeping them safe, away from the relegation scrap. The away form is treacherous, with just two wins and five losses. A few bad games and they might get sucked into the relegation scrap.
The addition of the brooding Bulgarian, Dimitar Berbatov has added a touch of class to Fulham’s attack and together with Bryan Ruiz, they played some nice eye-catching football at the start of the season.
Martin Jol’s main worry is the away form but a strong home form should allow them a comfortable mid-table finish.
There have been signs of improvement from Liverpool but they have been very inconsistent and it is pretty clear that this team is not good enough to be top four this season. A patchy home form and a not-so-good away form, hasn’t really allowed Liverpool’s season to take-off .
Luis Suarez has been the talismanic striker that Liverpool needed, and he delivered. With 15 goals, he is the second highest goal scorer in the Premier League this season. His goals have carried Liverpool’s inconsistent season and is crucial to the club’s ambition.
Brendon Rodgers has taken the unenviable task of re-building Liverpool but he has to remain content with a top eight finish this season and then look forward.
Although second and seven points off the top of the table, many City fans has complained that this City team is unrecognizable from the style and panache of the City team that won the league last season. Many clubs would want to be at City’s position now but the team has looked strangely laboured this season. A very strange summer transfer window where City didn’t really add too much quality and some players looking off-colour, and another early exit from Europe, Manchester City has a lot to do if they want to win back-to-back league titles.
The two main architects to City’s title charge last season were Yaya Toure and David Silva, and both have looked off-colour and laboured, coupled with Sergio Aguero’s indifferent form, City has been a bit inconsistent. Mario Balotelli has again flattered to deceive and with only one goal this season, Balotelli has irked everyone at City and now that he is gone, none seem to be complaining. It is the two Argentines, Carlos Tevez and Pablo Zabaleta, who are the ones who has shown true passion and commitment on the field and has sometimes carried the team.
Another early exit in Europe and doubled the pressure on Mancini to deliver the league title. They will be in the mix but the red half of Manchester might just have the last laugh this season.
If any Manchester United fan was given a scenario at the start of the season that said they will be seven points clear at the top of the table after 22 games into the season, they would have laughed it off. This has been an erratic season for United, they have been very shaky at the back and midfield needs cover but it is the frontline that has banged goals for fun, which has been the telling difference. They have comfortably negotiated an easy Champions League group and will face their sternest test in the form of Real Madrid in the next round. Although, last season’s experience will show that the league title is nowhere close to being guaranteed but very few people will bet against United wresting away the title from their neighbours.
Robin van Persie was bought for £24million in the summer from Arsenal and has been the difference between United and the others. His 17 goals and 9 assists has compensated for a leaky defence and is turning out to be one of the best bits of transfer business Sir Alex Ferguson has ever done.
Seven points clear and with such firepower in front of goal, Manchester United are looking to wrest away the league title from their ‘noisy’ neighbours.
After the high of last season Europa League finish, Newcastle United are having a wretched season. Injuries to key players due to extra workload and a thin squad have compounded the problems for Newcastle. A patchy home form and a wretched away form (no wins all season), has sucked Newcastle into the relegation dogfight and it seems it is going to be a battle for the ‘Toon army’ to survive in the league this season.
Alan Pardew was praised for turning Newcastle into a competitive outfit last season but this season has been different. A thin squad and injuries to players like Ben Arfa and Cabaye has exposed Newcastle’s squad and Pardew’s management skills. Demba Ba’s transfer to Chelsea has further limited the squad and Pardew’s failure to add Loic Remy (went to QPR) makes his position even more vulnerable. If PapissCisse can regain last season’s goal scoring form, Newcastle fans still has much to look forward to.
With the addition of French legion of Mathieu Debuchy, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, Yoan Gouffran, Massadio Haidara, Moussa Sissoko, Kevin Mbabu, the toon army has been strengthened the team considerably, and has added considerable strength and depth to the squad, that might drive them safe away from the relegation zone.
Norwich had a very shaky start to the season and questions were asked of Chris Houghton’s ability as a manager but the club has turned around the season with a string of good results, and now they sit a comfortable 12th in the table. A strong home form and a good defence has been the backbone of the season for Norwich.
Sebastien Bassong, recruited from Tottenham at a nominal fee, has strengthened the defence, which hasn’t conceded many goals. The first choice back four can shut-out best of attacks and the likes of Anthony Pilkington and Robert Snodgrass, has added some guile to Norwich’s attack.
A mid-table finish is something the club should aim for.
Queens Park Rangers:
Languishing at the bottom of the table, this has been a disastrous season for QPR. Having bought a number of players in the summer, the club was full of optimism at the start but it went from one disaster to another, and finally Mark Hughes was sacked as the manager and Harry Redknapp was appointed to salvage the season. They have collected a few points in the last few games; most notable beating Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, but QPR has a lot to do if they want to survive relegation.
Can Harry Redknapp fashion another great escape? He did it with Portsmouth and Tottenham and failed with Southampton but QPR will be his biggest challenge. He has signed Loic Remy in January and is set to sign French International YannMvilla, which will add much needed quality to the squad. Can he conjure up another ‘Harry Houdini’ act?
QPR will most probably ply their trade in the Championship next season.
Reading has just not been good enough for the Premier League. They can score goals but are pretty dreadful at defending and has conceded 42 goals this season. It seems unlikely that they can put together a string of results that will take them out of the relegation zone and they will have to depend upon other teams slipping up.
Brian McDrmott’s two key summer signings has failed, PavelPogrebnyak and Danny Guthrie, which has contributed to Reading’s poor season.
Unless something changes, Reading is set to get relegated this season.
Stoke City has found it difficult to score goals this season but unlike other teams who are facing the same problem, they have had a frugal defense (except the last home match against Chelsea), that has allowed them to have a strong start to the season. They currently lie 10th in the league standings and looks good to finish the season in the top half of the table. Stoke’s style of football is not everyone’s cup of tea but it has allowed them to become a regular premier league team and a visit to the Britannia Stadium is always a daunting task for any premier league team.
The summer signing Steven Nzonzi has really settled down well and is a typical Stoke player. Well built, physically strong and keeps the ball well and has added a different dimension to Stoke’s play. But it is the defense that has really excelled this season, with the brilliant form of captain Ryan Shawcross and the individual brilliance of goalkeeper AsmirBegovic (he is the in demand goalkeeper and expect some big teams to table a bid in the summer).
Tony Pulis’ style of football might not be endearing but he has turned Stoke into a formidable opponent. Expect a top 10 finish from them.
Two things happened at Southampton last week that projected diametrically opposite routes for the club. First on 16th of January, they clawed back from 2 goals down to get a point against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and on the 18th, their young manager, Nigel Adkins, was sacked for inexplicable reasons and former Espanyol manager Mauricio Pochettino was handed the reins. The whole narrative of Southampton’s season changed with that one decision of the board. They were beaten just twice in the last ten games and were a team on the way up but this sudden change might just prove catastrophic.
Jason Puncheon and Ricky Lambert have been the players of the season for Southampton. Both have scored goals and have allowed Southampton to gain some form after a disastrous start to the season.
It is very hard to predict on where the Saints will finish this season. They are a team on the up ; but with a new manager, a lot will depend the players will react under Mauricio.
Sunderland currently lies 14th in the league table but at that start of the season their fans were expecting a little better than that. Last season Sunderland surprised a lot of teams with their brand of counter attacking football, with the likes of James McClean, Stéphane Sessègnon and Sebastien Larsson performing really well for them. This season they have found it a lot harder and Sunderland have failed to beat their fellow strugglers and so lie just six points above the relegation zone. The feeling at Sunderland is that Martin O’Neil is the right manager for the club and deserves more time.
Danny Rose, on loan from Tottenham, has really impressed at left-back and there is clamour from the fans to sign him up on a permanent basis. The real setback is the form of McClean and Sessègnon, who have failed to produce last season’s form.
Sunderland is expected to beat the drop and finish in the lower-half of the table. They have too much quality to get relegated.
After Brendan Rodgers left Swansea for Liverpool, the next managerial appointment for Swansea was crucial, and in came one of the greats of the game, Michael Laudrup. There has been more goals and more excitement at the Liberty Stadium than last season and so life after Brendan Rodgers isn’t as bleak as it was projected. In the summer Laudrup brought in a certain Spaniard from RayoVallecano for a paltry sum of £2million and that has made all the difference.
Michu has been a brilliant acquisition for Swansea for such a paltry sum. He has already scored 13 goals in the league this season and his flexibility has allowed Swansea to play different systems with different plans and is a tireless worker when the team is not in possession.
Michael Laudrup took Brendan Rodgers’ team and improved upon it. Swansea is more exciting team to watch this season because he has added goals to this team. Expect a top half finish for them in the league.
Tottenham has put together a good run of results that has propelled them into the top-4, and are real challengers to stay there. They are exciting team to watch and a switch to 4-4-2 by AVB has worked out well. In a lot of games Tottenham have failed to finish off some teams and could have been as high as second if they held their nerves in the dying minutes of a few games. It is lack of concentration or fatigue or maybe both.
Gareth Bale has been in scintillating form in the left wing this season and has scored 9 goals. His pace and penetration adds a different dimension to Tottenham’s gameplay. Another player who has been in top form is Jermaine Defoe. He has already scored 10 goals in the league and has repaid is manager’s faith.
AVB was a bold appointment by Tottenham and it has clicked till now. He has made a few mistakes but Tottenham is a team that seems to be progressing. Expect Spurs to be in the mix for a top-4 finish.
West Bromwich Albion:
Steve Clarke was another bold managerial appointment. Known for his tactical knowledge of the game and being a brilliant first team coach, appointing him as the manager was a risk that West Brom took and it has worked. West Brom had a brilliant start to the season and then a few bad results but has again regained form. They currently lie 7th in the table and the most optimistic of West Brom fans wouldn’t have predicted that at the start of the season. A very strong team at home and a dangerous away team, West Brom has excelled. The squad is thin and a few injuries might derail their season but Steve Clarke has utilized this small squad brilliantly this season.
James Morrision has been the player of the season so far for West Brom. Played at different position by different managers in his career, he has finally excelled playing ‘in the hole’ just behind the striker. He is the creative hub of the team and the team looks bereft off ideas without him.
Steve Clarke has had a brilliant start to his managerial career but a few injuries are a cause of concern for him. He still in talks about getting to 40 points and ensuring safety but expect them to finish strongly and secure a high mid-table position.
West Ham United:
For a newly promoted team West Ham is having a good season so far. Sam Alladryce has achieved what he had promised when he came to Upton Park; promotion and being stable in the Premier League. The first was achieved without too much fuss and the second looks probable. West Ham is a very difficult team to play against, especially at home. They play direct football and are very dangerous from set piece situations.
Mark Noble has been the player of the season so far for them. He has been West Ham’s fulcrum, starting attacks from deep, dictating the tempo of the game, breaking down opposition attacks and a mean set-piece specialist. The 25 year old has even got an England call-up for his performances in the claret and blue
Expect ‘Big Sam’ to steer clear of relegation and finish mid-table.
Wigan is having their usual season. A complete mixed bag, laced with some good performances and some horrendous ones. It’s been another of the usual kind of season for Wigan, where they flirt with relegation all season and then make a late charge to secure their position. Can they make that late charge this season? They currently lie 17th in the table, just above the relegation zone due to a superior goal difference.
Ivan Ramis’ performances in the heart of the defense is encouraging but Wigan needs a lot more from others to escape relegation this season.
Can Roberto Martinez keep Wigan in the premier league this season? He has fashioned this late escape time and time again but will this be the season where Wigan finally succumb? Wigan’s saving grace is that the other teams in the relegation mix are not much better so they might just escape relegation again but then need to do a lot more as team to improve.
English Premier League 2012-13: Season Preview
EPL 2012-13 season is all set to get started with the teams getting their final minute acts right with a host of friendly matches. Sit back, relax and get a season preview predicting the prospect of 20 top-flight teams in English football, with Debojyoti Chakraborty
So, we are all set to start a new season of English Premier League, the most watched football league in the world. Actually we did not have much of a breather after the fascinating and absorbing 2011-12 season coming to a conclusion with virtually the last touch of the campaign when Kun Aguero secured the title for Manchester City on goal difference. After that football lovers were treated to a star-studded Euro 2012. England and Great Britain are still basking in the glory of the ongoing Olympics event and naturally it will take a while for people to shepherd their attention towards the domestic football season. Lack of any major new face in the league can be another reason for such low-key promotional activities so far. Coupled with the increasing economic turmoil worldwide and a fast approaching Financial Fair Play policy of FIFA, there has not been much activity in the summer transfer market so far. Premier league has seen less than 100 new players ready to be inducted in the coming season whereas the figure had easily crossed the 500 mark for the previous few seasons. While some major movements would surely spur up the transfer market as the window approaches its end, let us look at how the teams are shaping up and what we can expect from them.
Manager: Arsene Wenger Transfers in: Lukas Podolski (Köln), Olivier Giroud (Montpellier), Santi Cazorla (Malaga FC) Transfers out: Alex Song (Barcelona), Carlos Vela (Real Sociedad), Manuel Almunia (Watford), Robin van Persie (Manchester United), Ryo Miyaichi (loan- Wigan Athletic)
Repeat telecast. Only the main protagonists have changed. And the poor man(ager) has again lost a bunch of his most prolific players. If last season it was Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas, this year it has been Alex Song leaving for Barcelona and Robin van Persie who made no secret of his desire to leave the Emirates before joining archrivals Manchester United. Gunners will hope they will cash in on their star players (and make some good use of it instead of giving their book a healthy shape) and cope just fine as life has not come to a halt after a summer of exodus last time round. Wenger has reinforced his striking forces with two new players and contrary to his style, he has gone for proven goal-scorers in the form of Podolski and Giroud. Another new signing, Santi Cazorla loves to play in the hole and should enjoy life at the Emirates. With his midfield looking settled under Mikel Arteta and as usual a heavy influx of academy players who will be introduced this season, Arsenal’s defensive organization will be something to watch out for. After a horrendous start to the season, to be fair to them, they did well to finish third in the league. This time too they do not look ready to challenge for the title with their 37-goal scoring captain no longer around.
Predictions: Will start the campaign cold, but will eventually hang on to the last Champions League spot finishing fourth
Manager: Paul Lambert Transfers in: Brett Holman (AZ Alkmaar), Karim El Ahmadi (Feyenoord), Matthew Lowton (Sheff Utd), Ron Vlaar (Feyenoord) Transfers Out: Carlos Cuellar (Sunderland), Emil Heskey (released)
After a successful stint with Norwich City, Paul Lambert has decided to take charge at Villa Park. He has made some inroads in the Eredivisie, most notably in the form of promising youngster Vlaar. With the tight budgets in place, Lambert may have to use Stephen Ireland, player of the season for Villa last time round, to generate some funds. This won’t be a bad move considering his age and limited impact during the league campaign.
Prediction: Seriously lacking in quality, will be tough season for them. 18th
Manager: Roberto Di Matteo Transfers in: Eden Hazard (Lille), Marko Marin (Werder Bremen), Oscar (Internacional), Cesar Azpilicueta (Olympique Marseille), Victor Moses (Wigan Athletic) Transfers out: Didier Drogba (released – Shanghai Shenhua), Jose Bosingwa (released – QPR), Romelu Lukaku (loan – West Bromwich Albion), Salomon Kalou (released – Lille)
Roberto di Matteo did himself no harm by winning the coveted Champions League trophy for Chelsea. Roman Abramovich has trusted him on a permanent basis this season which marks a transition phase for Chelsea. With talismanic Drogba and other senior players out (and some counting their days in the club) it is time for Chelsea to start afresh. Cash injection has never been a problem for the Russian billionaire and RDM has utilized it well to bolster his squad – specifically the midfield. While Fernando Torres will get another season to impress as the only top class central forward in the squad, new signing Marko Marin will slowly be drafted in the squad as an understudy to Franc Lampard. The other big money signing, Hazard will be positioned in the left wing to partner Juan Mata in the opposite flank. This is a fresh look to the team and they would compete hard for the automatic Champions League spot. But unless they make some movement late into the transfer market, lack of perpetual strikers could haunt them.
Manager: David Moyes Transfers in: Steven Naismith (free – Rangers), Steven Pienaar (Tottenham Hotspur), Kevin Mirallas (Olympiakos) Transfers out: Jack Rodwell (Manchester City), Joseph Yobo (Fenerbahce), Tim Cahill (NY Red Bulls)
After losing Mikel Arteta last season, Everton have bid adieu to another influential star player – Tim Cahill. But David Moyes is used to it and one hopes he will be just fine. Only if they can get rid of their perennial poor start to the season, Everton will stand in good shape this season. With Cahill gone, Moyes would like to bring in a new target man up front to support Nikica Jelavic. A decent striker would do justice to their disciplined and hardworking midfield. The cash is available with the sale of young midfielder Jack Rodwell to the Champions. While Rodwell is quite talented, cashing on an injury prone greenhorn and bringing in a proven creative midfielder (Steven Pienaar) is not a bad move. With teams improving around them a top half finish would be a decent result for Everton, especially as they are running in a shoe-string budget.
Transfers out: Andrew Johnson (Queens Park Rangers), Danny Murphy (Blackburn Rovers), Diskson Etuhu (Blackburn), Pavel Pogrebnyak (Reading)
Martin Jol has quickly realised that there is severe lack of quality in his squad and thus he is crying for more quality players. It does not seem likely that his wishes will be fulfilled and that spells doom for Fulham. More crises are expected as their star forward Clint Dempsey is set to leave to a bigger club. Consolidating their position at home in Craven Cottage will be their solace this season as they will start as underdogs in their away matches. Still Jol is a good enough tactician to instil some grit and determination to his team and a mid-table finish away from the dreaded drop zone would not be a far cry for them.
Prediction: Will be occasionally dragged into the dogfight. 14th
Manager: Brendan Rodgers Transfers in: Fabio Borini (Roma), Joe Allen (Swansea), Oussama Assaidi (SC Heerenveen), Nuri Sahin (loan-Real Madrid) Transfers out: Alberto Aquilani (Fiorentina), Craig Bellamy (Cardiff), Dirk Kuyt (Fenerbache), Maxi Rodriguez (Newell’s Old Boys), Fabio Aurelio (released- Gremio)
Liverpool are on a rebuilding course and they start the season under a new man at the top, Brendan Rodgers. After an eye-catching season for the Swans, Rodgers would like to emulate his free-flowing passing style for the Reds. He has not made any major changes to the squad except for some fine-tuning. Joe Allen has come in to re-unite with his old manager but he will have to fight for his place in a jam packed midfield. With Alberto Aquilani, Craig Bellamy, Dirk Kuyt and Maxi Rodriguez – all big name players gone, Rodgers would like to concentrate on a much precise core team. Considering how much the teams around Liverpool and above them have improved since the last few seasons, even a Champions League spot seems unrealistic for them. That is good in a way as it takes off any pressure from them. It will not be surprising to see Rodgers concentrate more on domestic cups this season for silverware.
Prediction: Don’t bet against them finishing below their Merseyside neighbours again; Seventh
Manager: Roberto Mancini
Transfer in: Jack Rodwell (Everton)
Transfers out: David Pizzarro (loan – Roma), Owen Hargreaves (released – QPR), Emmanuel Adebayor (Tottenham Hotspur), Stuart Taylor (released- Reading), Adam Johnson (Sunderland)
The reigning champions have made news so far simply by not bringing in any star player this season. Mancini has been frustrated at the lack of funds made available to him and has only brought in Jack Rodwell who may not feature in the bench regularly, leave alone first team. This has nothing to do with their spending prowess rather the dreaded Financial Fair Play policy. Still with their squad depth, Manchester City is a force to reckon with and they would be contending for the title, come the crunch time in May.
Prediction: It will be a second season syndrome for them. Second
Manager: Sir Alex Ferguson
Transfers in: Nick Powell (Crewe), Robin van Persie (Arsenal), Shinji Kagawa (Borussia Dortmund), Alexander Buttner (Vitesse)
Transfers out: Fabio (Loan – QPR), Ji-Sung Park (QPR), Michael Owen (released), Paul Pogba (Juventus), Tomasz Kuszczak (released – Brighton), Ben Amos (loan- Hull City)
Manchester has made their intentions clear after signing Robin van Persie from Arsenal – they want their crown back. With Dimitri Berbatov all set to leave, it is a fascinating move to rope in the highest goal-scorer in EPL. After a hiatus of five years, Manchester United have brought in a central midfield player in the form of German Champion’s best player last season, Shinji Kagawa. Expectations are high that he would re-ignite the United central midfield which still has to rely on Ryan Giggs and give an SOS for Paul Scholes to come out of retirement. These two captures might well prompt Ferguson to deploy a 4-3-3 formation with Wayne Rooney partnering RVP Danny Welback upfront with Kagawa featuring in his preferred central role in the top of midfield. Last time Manchester played with a three-pronged attack they claimed back-to-back leagues, won Champions League once and reached the finals the other time. Losing the crown on goal difference last season has surely hurt them and it has been a while they have not won the EPL for two successive seasons.
Prediction: First. Just for their hunger to win
Manager: Alan Perdew
Transfers in: Romain Amalfitano (free – Reims), Vurnon Anita (Ajax), Curtis Good (Melbourne Heart), Gael Bigirimana (Coventry)
Transfers out: Alan Smith (released – MK Dons), Danny Guthrie (released –Reading), Leon Best (Blackburn Rovers), Peter Lovenkrands (released – Birmingham City)
Newcastle had a very good last season and they narrowly missed out on Champions League qualification spot. They would like to do better this season and so far they have done well to keep their squad intact. After a superb season, their players – most notably Yohan Cabaye, Cheick Tiote, Demba Ba, Papiss Cisse – are in huge demand but Perdew has not been tempted by any offer so far. He is a shrewd businessman and as he has done in the past, he would ensure no player is gone for cheap. That allows him to bring in reinforcements if needed. They look in good shape and there is no reason why they cannot emulate their previous season’s success.
Prediction: So close, yet so far. Again, fifth
Manager: Chris Hughton
Transfers in: Steven Whittaker (free – Rangers), Alexander Tettey (Rennes), Sebastien Bassong (Tottenham Hotspur), Javier Garrido (loan- Lazio), Michael Turner (Sunderland), Robert Snodgrass (Leeds United), Jacob Butterfield (free- Barnsley), Steven Whittaker (free- Glasgow Rangers).
Transfers out: Adam Drury (released – Leeds)
Chris Hughton returns to Premier League with an impressive record as a Newcastle manager. This will surely please fans who saw their influential manager Paul Lamber depart after an impressive return season to the top flight where they finished 12th. He has already done remarkably well to hold on to want away talisman forward Grant Holt. Norwich has a strong setup with their defensive organization earning praises from pundits. Hughton is known for his possession based, attractive and attacking style of play. It will be interesting to see what impact this combination yields.
Queens Park Rangers
Manager: Mark Hughes
Transfers in: Andy Johnson (free – Fulham), David Hoilett (Blackburn Rovers), Fábio (loan – Manchester United), Ji-Sung Park (Manchester United), Jose Bosingwa (free – Chelsea), Robert Green (free – West Ham), Ryan Nelsen (free – Tottenham Hotspur)
Transfer out: Paddy Kenny (Leeds United)
By far the most active club in the transfer market, QPR looks set to avoid last day tension for survival like last year. Mark Hughes has strengthened his squad across the pitch by bringing in experienced shot-stopper Robert Green, centre-half Ryan Nelsen and full-backs Fabio and Jose Bosingwa, midfield work-horse Ji-Sung Park and striker duo David Hoilett and Andy Johnson. On paper, they look much stronger and should aim for a top half finish. But, so many new players would take time to get galvanized in the team which may lead to a slow start to the campaign.
Manager: Brian Mcdermott
Transfers in: Danny Guthrie (free – Newcastle United), Nicky Shorey (free – West Bromich Albion), Pavel Pogrebnyak (free – Fulham), Stuart Taylor (free-Manchester City), Chris Gunter (Nottingham Forest), Adrian Mariappa (Watford), Pierce Sweeney (Bray Wanderers), Garath McCleary (free- Nottingham Forest)
Transfer out: Mathieu Manset (FC Sion)
Reading qualified for the top flight by winning the Championships. It is their back-to-back promotion in consecutive years and they could find the gap too much to handle in the top flight. Man in charge, Brian McDermott has put together a steady unit which will be difficult to break down but doubt remains wherefrom they will find the goals to win matches. Pavel Pogrebnyak will be under pressure to deliver for the whole season as a lone man up front and it will depend very much on him how Reading fares this season.
Prediction: Touch and go. 17th on benefit of doubt
Manager: Nigel Adkins
Transfers in: Jay Rodriguez (Burnley), Nathaniel Clyne (Crystal Palace), Steven Davis (Glasgow Rangers), Paulo Gazzaniga (Gillingham),
Transfer out: Ryan Doble (released – Shrewsbury)
They seem like a cannon fodder for other teams in the Premier League. There is shortage of top-flight experience and lack of their squad depth will surely be exposed during this long season. They have an ongoing youth project with the aim of fielding at least half of their squad from their homegrown players. This could just be a tough reality check for this ambitious club.
There is nothing new about Stole City. They will be physical, rely on set pieces to find an opening and would defend with their lives when the need be. Considering the positive movements shown by their competitors around the mid-table group, it will be hard for them to finish anywhere near the top half.
Manager: Martin O’Neil
Transfers in: Carlos Cuellar (free – Aston Villa), Louis Saha (Tottenham Hotspur), Adam Johnson (Manchester City), Steven Fletcher (Wolverhampton Wanderers).
Transfers out: Asamoah Gyan (Al-Ain FC), Craig Gordon (released), Michael Turner (Norwich)
Another club stuck in mediocrity. Sunderland may cause a few upsets down the road but they would largely be unimpressive like last season. They have not added anything to their squad – other than the tried, tested and failed Louis Saha – and have done away with Asamoah Gyan who had openly expressed his desire to seek fortunes elsewhere. So, Martin O’Neil’s side will play the same way but an improvement in the quality of the league may cause them a couple of places.
Manager: Michael Laudrup
Transfers in: Chico (Genoa), Michu (Rayo Vallecano), Ki Sung-Yeung (Celtic), Kyle Bartley (Arsenal), Itay Shechter (loan-Kaiserslautern), Jonathan de Guzman (Villarreal)
Transfers out: Gylfi Sigrudsson (loan term finished), Joe Allen (Liverpool)
Swansea had stunned one and all with their refreshing football last season. So rare for a newly promoted side, Brandon Rodgers opted for a short passing style which saw them finish a respectable 10th position. Much of the credit should go to on loan midfield maestro Gylfi Sigrudsson, who have since then moved on like the manager himself, and another star midfielder Joe Allen. What is worrying is that they have failed to add to their squad despite having some cash to spend in the market. Michael Laudrup has been roped in but going by his dismal managerial record so far, he might just be the first casualty in this cut-throat league.
Prediction: Life will be difficult for the Swans. 12th
Transfers out: Ledley King (retired), Louis Saha (released – Sunderland), Niko Kranjcar (Dynamo Kyiv), Ryan Nelsen (released – QPR), Steven Pienaar (Everton), Vedran Corluka (Lokomotiv Moscow)
It is like a great vendetta movie right out of Hollywood. A young man humiliated from his throne return to rule the city as the opposition leader. Only thing, like it happens in most of the fairy tales, a Happy Ending is not so obvious here. AVB is back at London with the Spurs after being shown the door at Chelsea barely six months ago. He has made two great signings by roping in Jan Vertonghen to replace Ledley King and Gylfi Sigrudsson to replace want-away midfield lynchpin, Luka Modric. But injuries have hit Tottenham hard in the last season and AVB will hope he gets some luck his way this time. Still, it will be too much to ask for him to guide the team through to top four finish on his debut season.
Prediction: Will give the top teams a good run for their money but would fade away in the second half of the season. Sixth
West Bromwich Albion
Manager: Steve Clarke
Transfers in: Ben Foster (Birmingham City), Romelu Lukaku (loan- Chelsea), Claudio Yacob (Racing Avellaneda), Yassine El Ghanassy (loan- AA Gent), Marcus Rosenberg (Werder Bremen)
Transfers out: Keith Andrews (released – Bolton), Nicky Shorey (released – Reading), Paul Scharner (released), Somen Tchoyi (released), Lateef Elford-Alliyu (released- Bury), Joe Mattock (released- Sheffield)
Steve Clarke had joined Liverpool last year as an assistant to Kenny Dalglish after Roy Hodgson was sacked. He joins West Bromwich Albion as the main man after the same man has vacated the space to answer call of nation. Clarke has to cope with high expectations following some fine back-to-back seasons by the Albions. With not much change to the squad he gets a neat core group which is very organized defensively, something Clarke himself masters in. With sound knowledge of English football aplenty in the squad, WBA will look for another strong showing.
West Ham United
Manager: Sam Allardyce
Transfers in: Alou Diarra (Olympique Marseille), George McCartney (Sunderland), James Collins (Aston Villa), Jussi Jaaskelainen (free – Bolton), Mohamed Diame (free – Wigan), Matt Jarvis (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Stephen Henderson (Portsmouth), Modibo Maiga (Sochaux)
Transfers out: Abdoulaye Faye (released – Hull City), John Carew (released), Papa Bouba Diop (released), Ravel Morrison (Birmingham), Robert Green (released – QPR)
West Ham is the third team to be promoted from Championship this year through play-offs. They have trimmed their squad substantially but it is interesting to see how they have added some meat to their structure. In comes some known faces, with grit and determination and out goes some players who are just not good enough to fit into plans of Big Sam. A dogfight awaits them. Big Sam seems to be their biggest hope and they might just escape it in their debut season.
Manager: Roberto Martinez
Transfers in: Arouna Kone (Levante UD), Ivan Ramis (RCD Mallorca), Ryo Miyaichi (loan-Arsenal), Fraser Fyvie (Aberdeen).
Transfers out: Chris Kirkland (released – Sheffield Wednesday), Hugo Rodallega (released – Fulham), Mohamed Diame (released – West Ham), Victor Moses (Chelsea), Steven Gouhuri (released)
Each season it is the same story. Pundits write them, and they prove them wrong by somehow surviving in the topflight. Just like last season, I am taking my neck out to forecast their relegation. They could not negotiate terms with key personnel like Hugo Rodallega and their star player Victor Moses also leaving. There has not been any major addition to the squad and it looks like there is no hope this year, they cannot do it again. Or can they?
Prediction: They have outlived themselves. 19th
English Premier League 2011-12 – A Preview
Nickname: The Gunners Manager: Arsene Wenger Stadium: Emirates Stadium Last season’s league position: 4th Final Verdict: 5th
Gervinho (Lille, £10.6 million), Francis Coquelin (Lorient), Pedro Botelho (FC Cartagena), Armand Traoré (Juventus), Carl Jenkinson (Charlton, £990k), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Southampton, £12.14 million)
Jens Lehmann (End of career), Mark Randall (Chesterfield, free transfer), Gaël Clichy (Man City, £6.82 million), Denílson (São Paulo), Jay Emmanuel-Thomas (Ipswich, £1.1 million), Pedro Botelho (Rayo Vallecano)
Season’s predictions:When Arsene Wenger took over the North London club, fans were clamouring for more attacking football. “One-nil to the Arsenal” was the chant of the day, but the fans wanted more. 15 years on and Arsenal play some of the most attractive football in the Premier League, but, crucially, it doesn’t quite get the job done. Arsenal conceded the highest percentage of goals from set pieces last term, and this will have to be corrected in order for them to get back to challenging for the title once more. The seemingly never-ending transfer saga of club captain
Cesc Fabregas, and the results of the dissatisfaction of Samir Nasri will also go a long way to deciding how strong a challenge the Londoners can mount this season. Signing a strong, commanding centre-back like Robert Huth (Stoke City) or Christopher Samba (Blackburn Rovers) that takes no prisoners would help immensely. Look for Arsene to avoid signing one of those types, and for Arsenal to flatter early, but fade away by February-March. Top 4 finish will be a struggle this season.
Nickname: Villains Manager: Alex McLeish Stadium: Villa Park Last season’s league position: 9th Final Verdict: 10th
Shay Given (Manchester City, £3.5m), Charles N’zogbia (Wigan Athletic, £9.5m)
Stewart Downing(Liverpool, £20), Ashley Young (Manchester United, £16m), Brad Friedel(Tottenham, free), Nigel Reo-Coker(released), John Carew (released),Moustapha Salifou (released), Robert Pires (released), Isaiah Osbourne(released), Harry Forrester (released), Arsenio Halfhuid (released).
Season’s predictions:After a rocky start last season, due to the departure of Martin O’Neill, Villa did well to finish the season in the top half. Having lost two of their key players, Ashley Young and Stewart Downing to Manchester United and Liverpool respectively, the Villains will do well to equal or better their accomplishments last season. New manager Alex McLeish
will instill some defensive cohesion so look for Aston Villa to build from the back this season. Having crossed the divide in England’s 2nd city only 2 months ago, McLeish will also have to work hard to win over the fans. His every mistake will be scrutinized intensely. Top half finish will be difficult, look for Villa to finish between 10th and 12th.
Nickname: Rovers Manager: Steve Kean Stadium: Ewood Park Last season’s league position: 15th Final Verdict: 15th
David Goodwillie (Dundee United, £2m), Tom Hitchcock (Blackburn Rovers U18), Radosav Petrovic (Partizan, £ 2 million)
Phil Jones(Manchester United, £16.5 million),Frank Fielding (Derby, £400k), Jordan Bowen (released), Jason Brown (released), Zurab Khizanishvili(released), Maceo Rigters (released), Michael Potts (released), Benjani Mwarurawi (released), Aaron Doran (Inverness Cal.), Michael Potts (York City, released), Zurab Khizanishvili (Kayserispor, released), Jermaine Jones (Schalke 04)
Season’s predictions:Steve Kean will have a lot to live up to in his first full season in charge of Blackburn Rovers. He claims his team has what it takes – backed in no small part by their money-laden Indian owners – to reach the hallowed regions of the Champions League qualification spots in 4 years. He will have to do it without Phil Jones, sold to Manchester United for a hearty 16.5 million pounds. And might have to do it
without the services of Christopher Samba as well, who is a target of Arsenal. With misfit Senegalese forward, El Hadji Diouf still AWOL, Kean will have a big decision to make even if the talented frontman returns. Narrowly avoiding relegation only on the last day of last season, Blackburn will be lucky if they can better their accomplishment of 15th next season.
Nickname: Trotters Manager: Owen Coyle Stadium: Reebok Stadium Last season’s league position: 14th Final Verdict: 16th
Johan Elmander (Galatasaray, released), Jlloyd Samuel (released), Joey O’Brien (West Ham, released), Ali Al-Habsi (Wigan, £ 3.8 million), Danny Ward (Huddersfield, £ 110k), Matthew Taylor (West Ham, £ 2.2 million), Sam Sheridan (Stockport, released), Tamir Cohen (Maccabi Haifa, released)
Season’s predictions:The wanderers should have done a lot better last season than their 14th position concluded. They were often a very entertaining, yet solid team. Owen Coyle’s style of passing the ball along the turf took some time to
get going, considering where Bolton’s tendencies were coming from. The loss of on-loan star Daniel Sturridge will reduce the attacking flair somewhat, and therefore it will be difficult for Bolton to consolidate a good first season under Coyle, and push on for a top half finish.
Nickname: The Blues Manager: Andre Villas-Boas Stadium: Stamford Bridge Last season’s league position: 2nd Final Verdict: 4th
Thibaut Courtois (£7.8m, Genk), Lucas Piazón (São Paulo Futebol Clube B, £ 6.6 million), Sam Walker (Northampton), Slobodan Rajkovic (Vitesse), Matej Delac (Vitesse), Oriol Romeu (Barcelona B, £ 4.4 million), Romelu Lukaku (RSC Anderlecht, £ 19.36 million)
Jack Cork (Southampton, £740k), Michael Mancienne (Hamburg, £2.2m), Jacopo Sala (Hamburg, undisclosed), Gokhan Tore (Hamburg, undisclosed), Sam Hutchinson(released), Carl Magnay (released), Jan Sebek (released), Danny Philliskirk (released), Jeffrey Bruma(Hamburg, two-season loan), Sam Walker (Northampton Town, loan), Fabio Borini (Parma), Nemanja Matic (Benfica Lissab., £ 4.4 million), Thibaut Courtois (Atlético Madrid, loan), Yuri Zhirkov (Anzhi, £ 13.2 million)
Season’s predictions:The end of another season, and the end of another manager’s reign at Roman Abramovich’s favourite boardgame. Andre Vilas-Boas steps in, fresh from leading Porto to the treble of the League, Portuguese Cup and Europa League Titles; much like his former mentor and boss, Jose Mourinho. It would seem like the script is written for Vilas-Boas, as he’s almost mirrored the movements of the ‘Special One’ in moving from success at Porto to uncertainty at Chelsea. On paper, Vilas-Boas fits the bill to herald a similar sort of renaissance to Chelsea
as the man who will likely be his greatest challenger in his first season, Sir Alex Ferguson. The question on everyone’s lips is: will he be allowed the time to prove his worth? Should Vilas-Boas find a way to release the pent-up goal scoring frustrations of Fernando Torres, and mastermind a way to have the Spaniard fit into a team and system that didn’t necessarily need his services, Chelsea could well be on their way to success. AVB is likely to have Chelsea battling with Manchester United, Liverpool and Manchester City for the title this season.
Nickname: The Toffees Manager: David Moyes Stadium: Goodison Park Last season’s league position: 7th Final Verdict: 7th
Eric Dier (Sporting, loan), Joseph Yobo (Fenerbahce), Ross Barkley (Everton Res.)
James Vaughan(Norwich, £2m), Kieran Agard(released), Hope Akpan (released), Luke Dobie (released), Iain Turner(released), Nathan Craig (released),Gerard Kinsella (released), Lee McArdle (released), John Nolan (Stockport County, free)
Season’s predictions:Arsene Wenger is known to be a shrewd economist, but surely David Moyes is the best manager around at doing a lot with nothing. Everton consistently have no money to use in the transfer market, yet they tend to always pack quite a punch. Should the injury bug avoid the Toffees’ dressing room for the most part this season, Everton are more than capable of snatching a European spot come May 2012.
Key players like Louis Saha, Marouane Fellaini, Mikel Arteta and Leighton Baines all have to remain fit for the Toffees to remain in contention for European spots. Known to be notoriously slow starters, watch out for Everton getting it right from early and becoming a major threat to those seeking European births from as early as August. Top 7 finish may not seem likely, but surely the worst of their injuries are past them.
Nickname: The Cottagers Manager: Martin Jol Stadium: Craven Cottage Last season’s league position: 8th Final Verdict: 11th
Dan Burn (Darlington, undisclosed), David Stockdale (Ipswich), Csaba Somogyi (Rakospalotai EAC, undisclosed),John Arne Riise (Roma, £2.46m), Marcel Gecov (Slovan Liberec, £704k), Pajtim Kasami (Palermo, £3.3m)
Zoltan Gera (released), Diomansy Kamara (released), John Pantsil (released), Eddie Johnson (released), Matthew Saunders (released), David Stockdale (Ipswich, loan), Jonathan Greening (Nottm Forest, £ 616k), Kagisho Dikgacoi (Crystal Palace, £590k)
Season’s predictions:Attack! Attack! Attack! Fulham’s new manager, Martin Jol, is well known in the Premier League and tends to prefer attack to defence. Fulham already have a solid core of Hangeland, Dempsey and Danny Murphy. Even if the former Merseyside Red is on the wane of his career,
he may still fit enough for one last hurrah. The return of Bobby Zamora to the side will seem like a new signing, and if the big England man can reclaim the form he showed in the 09-10 season, Fulham should be able to find themselves somewhere between 9th and 11th this season.
Nickname: The Reds Manager: Kenny Dalglish Stadium: Anfield Last season’s league position: 6th Final Verdict: 3rd
Stewart Downing (Aston Villa, £20m), Jordan Henderson (Sunderland, £15.84 million), Charlie Adam (Blackpool, £7.40 million), Alexander Doni (Roma, free transfer)
Jason Banton (released), Deale Chamberlain (released), Douglas Cooper (released), Sean Highdale (released), Steven Irwin (released), Nikola Saric (released), Paul Konchesky(Leicester City, £1.5m), Stephen Darby (Rochdale, loan), Péter Gulácsi (Hull, loan), Thomas Ince (Blackpool, £ 57k), Milan Jovanovic (RSC Anderlecht, £ 704k)
Season’s predictions:He huffed, and he puffed, and he blew their house down. Sir Alex Ferguson accomplished his self-assigned goal of ‘knocking Liverpool off their perch’ by claiming a 19th title and sitting atop the list of English League title winners. However, this could prove to be a blessing in disguise for Kenny Dalglish’s Liverpool. King Kenny will be into his second season of attempting to break Liverpool’s jinx and carry the Kop to a league title for the first time since 1990. Having sold Fernando Torres to Chelsea in January for a whopping 50 million pounds, and replaced him with Andy Carroll (35 million) and Luis Suarez (22.8 million),
Dalglish began constructing a new-look forward line which he hopes will help to bring the glory days back to the Kop. Following on those January moves, Liverpool have already brought in Jordan Henderson (Sunderland), Charlie Adam (Blackpool) and Stewart Downing (Aston Villa) to provide more youth, vision and width respectively. Dalglish will need more time to complete the rebuilding process, but perhaps the removal of the crown of being England’s most successful team will lift a weight off the players’ shoulders and allow them to play with more freedom and less pressure. Look for Liverpool to battle it out with Manchester City and Chelsea for spots behind Manchester United.
Nickname: The Citizens Manager: Roberto Mancini Stadium: City of Machester Stadium Last season’s league position: 3rd Final Verdict: 2nd
Jerome Boateng (Bayern Munich, £11.8m), Shay Given (Aston Villa, £3.3 million) Patrick Vieira (end of career), Shaleum Logan (Brentford, released), Scott Kay (Macclesfield, released), Andrew Tutte (Rochdale, released), David Gonzalez (Aberdeen, loan), James Poole (Hartpool, released), Jo (Internacional), Kieran Trippier (Burnley, loan)
Season’s predictions:Manchester City has a lot of expectations to live up to in their first season in the Champions League. Having piped Arsenal for 3rd last season, they avoid the tricky playoff games and step directly into the CL Group Stage Draw. In addition to this 1st bite of the Champions League cherry, City’s fans will be hoping for continued improvement on their league position, and hence a challenge for the title. They certainly have the money to back any of those ambitions.
And having already brought in Sergio Aguero for a club record 39.6million pounds, there’s speculation they could still acquire Samir Nasri from Arsenal to bolster an already bulging attacking lineup. Can they avoid a letdown after their first successful season in 34 years? The ongoing Carlos Tevez Saga as well as the turbulent nature of Mario Balotelli is not helping their pre-season preparations. But, do expect them to battle it out with Chelsea and Liverpool for the challenger spots to Manchester United.
Nickname: Red Devils Manager: Sir Alex Ferguson Stadium: Old Trafford Last season’s league position: Champions Final Verdict: Champions
Ashley Young (Aston Villa, £16m), Phil Jones (Blackburn Rovers, £16.5 million), David De Gea (Atletico Madrid, £17 million)
Owen Hargreaves (released), Edwin van der Sar (end of career), Gary Neville (end of career), Paul Scholes (end of career), Gabriel Obertan (Newcastle, £300k), Wes Brown (Sunderland, £1.3m), John O’Shea (Sunderland, £3.9m), Rober Brady (Hull, loan), Richie de Laet (Norwich, loan), Bebe (Besiktas, loan), Ritchie De Laet (Norwich City, loan), Joe Dudgeon (Hull, £ 84k), Corry Evans (Hull, £ 502k), Ryan Tunnicliffe (Peterborough, loan), Scott Wootton (Peterborough, loan), Nicky Ajose (Peterborough, £ 300k)
Season’s predictions:Champions and favourites to retain. Manchester United are coming off a record breaking 19th title winning season, but ironically, rarely looked like champions of old in 2010-2011. Their away from was some of the worst for a league champion in English football history, yet they churned out the results needed to become worthy Champions in the end. Having seen Edwin van der Sar, Gary Neville and Paul Scholes hang up their boots, along with Owen Hargreaves being released, Wes Brown and John O’Shea moving on,
Sir Alex has strengthened his squad with the youthful additions of goalkeeper David De Gea and versatile defender Phil Jones, as well as the proven talent of Ashley Young to provide competition for Antonio Valencia and Nani on the wings. Those may be all the signings United fans can hope for this summer, however. That said, United played largely below their standards last season, and the current additions to the squad certainly add enough quality to help the favourites for this year’s title get back to some of their best performances.
Nickname: The Magpies Manager: Alan Pardew Stadium: St. James’ Park Last season’s league position: 12th Final Verdict: 13th
Yohan Cabaye (Lille, £4.4 million), Demba Ba (West Ham, free), Sylvain Marveaux (Rennes, free), Gabriel Obertan (Manchester United, £3 million)
Kevin Nolan (West Ham, £2.9 million), Sol Campbell (released), Shefki Kuqi (released), Patrick McLaughlin (released), Ben Tozer (released)
Season’s predictions:Football is not only a wonderful game played on the pitch any more – it is a business today played in the cool conference rooms. This was proved by the transfer of Andy Carrol – Newcastle’s leading striker and capturing the imagination of a nation rapidly – to Liverpool last season. It remains to be seen how wisely (if, at all) they can spend the money earned from this transfer to strengthen their squad. They seem more inclined to selling players for
some weird reasons. Joey Barton, one of the most prolific players in the EPL last season, had done enough to get a national call up but has been showed the door forcibly. Jose Enrirue is also likely joining the Reds on Merseyside. Not much to cheer about so far, except for the ever so loud Toon Army. Prediction – With Kevin Nolan also leaving, life is going to be tough for them. Lower mid-table finish in the range of 12-16 seems more likely.
Nickname: The Canaries Manager: Paul Lambert Stadium: Carrow Road Last season’s league position: Promoted from Championship, 2nd place Final Verdict: 19th
James Vaughan (Everton, £2m), Steve Morison (Millwall, £2.5m), Elliott Bennett (Brighton, £1.5m), Ritchie De Laet (Manchester United, loan), Anthony Pilkington (Huddersfield, £1m), Bradley Johnson (Leeds, free transfer), Kyle Naughton (Tottenham, loan)
Matt Gill (Bristol, released), Jens Berthel Askou (released), Sam Habergham (released), Luke Daley (Plymouth, £ 44k), Owain Tudur Jones (Inverness Cal., released), Luke Daley (Plymouth, £ 44k), Owain Tudur Jones (Inverness Cal., released)
Season’s predictions:Welcome to the top flight after 8 years, but be ready for a dogfight. Norwich has made giant strides by winning back to back promotions to reach this far, but the meteoritic pace may be a bit too much for their own good.
Like any Championship club, they work on a shoe tight budget and it remains to be seen how much Paul Lambert can extract from his inexperience side. The chairman says “17th will be absolutely fine” – it will be difficult to go even that far I guess.
Queens Park Rangers
Nickname: The Hoops Manager: Neil Warnock Stadium: Loftus Road Last season’s league position: Promoted from Championship, 1st place Final Verdict: 14th
JJay Bothroyd (Cardiff, free), Kieron Dyer (West Ham, free), Danny Gabbidon (West Ham, free), D. J. Campbell (Blackpool, £ 1.76 million)
Lee Brown (Bristol Rovers, released), Pascal Chimbonda (released), Mikele Leigertwood (Reading, released), Joe Oastler (Torquay, released), Josh Parker (Oldham, released), , Georgias Tofas (Anagennisi Derynia, released)
Season’s predictions:Another Championship club finding it hard to rope in quality players to bolster its squad. Especially after a fall out with one of the main co-owners, the Mittals, it is unknown how much budget Neil Warnock would be given to work with. They have a solid defence,
masterminded by Neil Warnock to suit his style of tactical play. Now it will be tested in the grind of EPL week-in week-out. If they can manage to get a striker to score at least 10 goals a season, they can finish in the mid table holding their heads high.
Nickname: The Potters Manager: Tony Pulis Stadium: Britannia Stadium Last season’s league position: 13th Final Verdict: 12th
Jonathan Woodgate (Tottenham, free transfer), Matthew Upson (West Ham, free transfer)
Abdoulaye Faye (West Ham, released), Eidur Gudjohnsen (AEK FC, released), Ibrahima Sonko (released), Carl Dickinson (Watford, £250k)
Season’s predictions:Have a good solid squad but it will be difficult to move up the ladder in this ever improving league. Taking the Potters any
further is doubtful and might prove the toughest to date unless Pulis can refresh and revitalise his squad. Prediction: Some boring mid table finish.
Nickname: Black Cats Manager: Steve Bruce Stadium: Stadium of Lights Last season’s league position: 10th Final Verdict: 6th
Sebastian Larsson (Birmingham, free), Kieren Westwood (Coventry, free), Connor Wickham (Ipswich, £8 million), Craig Gardner (Birmingham, £5.8 million), Ji Dong-won (Chunnam Dragons, £2.1 million), Wes Brown (Manchester United, £1.3 million), John O’Shea (Manchester United, £3.9 million), David Vaughan (Blackpool, free), Ahmed Elmohamady (Enppi, £ 2.2 million)
Jordan Henderson (Liverpool, £15.8 million), Steed Malbranque (Saint-Étienne, released), Cristian Riveros (Kayserispor, loan), Bolo Zenden (released), Michael Kay (released), Nathan Luscombe (Hartpool, released), Daniel Madden (released), Robert Weir (released), Nathan Wilson (released), Mvoto Jean-Yves (Oldham, released)
Season’s predictions:Busiest team of the season by far with as many as 9 recruits. Selling Henderson for a whopping $20 million is utilized well by Steve Bruce to rope in a good mix of experienced Premiere
League players – the duo from Manchester United was a real bargain. One of the most improved teams over the last 2 seasons. Prediction – A Europa cup spot will be the least the gaffer would be looking for.
Swansea Athletic FC
Nickname: The Swans Manager: Brendan Rodgers Stadium: Liberty Stadium Last season’s league position: Promoted from Championship, Playoffs Final Verdict: 18th
Danny Graham (Watford, £3.5 million), Jose Moreira (Benfica, £750k), Leroy Lita (Middlesbrough, £1.7 million), Steven Caulker (Spurs, free transfer), Wayne Routledge (Newcastle, £2.86 million)
Dorus de Vries (Wolves, released), Cedric van der Gun (released), Albert Serrán (AEK Larnaca, released), Jamie Grimes (released), Kerry Morgan (Neath FC, released), Darren Pratley (Bolton, released), Yves Makaba-Makalamby (released), Gorka Pintado (released)
Season’s predictions:First team from Wales to enter top flight football since the Premiere League was set up. They seem to have enough attacking flair in new signing Championship top goal-scorer Danny Graham,
pace of ex-Premier League winger Scott Sinclair, and new signing of Jose Moreira. But their defence, which performed above expectation last time round, holds the key for the survival in top flight. Prediction – Relegation confirmed by March.
Nickname: Spurs Manager: Harry Redknapp Stadium: White Hart lane Last season’s league position: 5th Final Verdict: 9th
Season’s predictions:Will be pushed to the limits by a rejuvenated Liverpool, big spending Manchester City and some strong & determined clubs like Everton, West Brom, Sunderland and Newcastle. Seem to be quite unsettled by the Modric saga. It may be better
to let the player leave. He has already done the unthinkable by openly criticizing the club president. Otherwise, their season could be hampered as was the 2nd half of Blackpool’s due to Charlie Adam- Liverpool tug of war. Prediction – Will just hang on to a top 10 finish.
West Bromwich Albion
Nickname: Baggies Manager: Roy Hodgson Stadium: The Hawthorns Last season’s league position: 11th Final Verdict: 8th
Billy Jones (Preston, free transfer), Gareth McAuley (Ipswich, free transfer), Ben Foster (Birmingham, £ 1million), Zoltán Gera (Fulham, released), Márton Fülöp (Ipswich, free transfer), Shane Long (Reading, £ 6 million)
Ryan Allsopp (Millwall, £ 88k), Giles Barnes (Doncstar, released), Abdoulaye Meite (Dijon, released), Gianni Zuiverloon (Mallorca, released), Borja Valero (Villarreal, loan deal made permanent), Scott Carson (Bursaspor, £1.9 million), Dean Kiely (End of career)
Season’s predictions:Life at Anfield was like a square block trying to get fit in a circular hole for Roy Hodgson. It never worked out – the discomfort of leaving up to the expectation of a bigger club was evident from the out. So, he joined the Baggies. Back to square one – smaller club, little known names, compact defensive strategy of
Hodgson and Baggies saw a revival in their fortune. From languishing in and around the drop zone before his arrival, Hodgson made a strong surge towards the end of the season – accepting defeat in only 2 out of its last 12 games – just to miss out on a top half finish. Prediction – Watch out for them, dark horse for a European spot.
Nickname: The Latics Manager: Roberto Martínez Stadium: JJB Stadium Last season’s league position: 16th Final Verdict: 20th
David Jones (Wolves, free transfer), Ali Al Habsi, (Bolton, £ 3.78 million)
Antonio Amaya (Real Betis, £ 250k), Jason Koumas (released), Steven Caldwell (Birmingham, released), Daniel De Ridder (Grasshoppers, released), Joseph Holt (released), Thomas Lambert (released), Thomas Oakes (released), Abian Serrano Davila (released), Charles N’Zogbia (Aston Villa, £ 9.54 million)
Season’s predictions:Last season they survived by the skin of their teeth but things are looking gloomier day by day. The financial
position of the club is in disarray and it means they are forced to sell their best player, Charles N’Zogbia. Prediction – Will get the wooden spoon.
Nickname: Wolves Manager: Mick McCarthy Stadium: Molineux Stadium Last season’s league position: 17th Final Verdict: 17th
Jamie O’Hara (Tottenham, £ 5 million), Dorus de Vries (Swansea, free transfer), Roger Johnson (Birmingham City, £ 7 million)
Jody Craddock (released), Adriano Basso (Hull, released), John Dunleavy (released), Marcus Hahnemann (released), David Jones (Wigan, released), Nathan Rooney (AFC Telford United, released), Steven Mouyokolo (Sochaux, season-long loan), Greg Halford (Portsmouth, £ 880k)
Season’s predictions:Narrowly avoided the drop last year, and will need to invest heavily to avoid relegation. Newly promoted teams will target
Wolves for maximum points and truly speaking, they do stand a realistic chance of getting that. Prediction – Mick McCarthy is a shrewd tactician but it might be touch-and-go this time round for him.