Top five reasons to avoid transfer deadline day

Top five reasons to avoid transfer deadline day

deadline-day-blog

TRANSFER DEADLINE DAY: Will any big names sign on the dotted line for your club? Here are five reasons to give deadline day a wide berth.

Luckily, this day comes around just twice a year otherwise I’d go and hide in a dark room and club my head against the wall more often.

Yes, transfer deadline day really is that annoying.

Crammed full of fairytale hope, hoax calls, fictitious player sightings, lamentable TV coverage and social media nonsense you have more than enough reasons to avoid this most horrendous of footballing days.

Granted, a good deadline day does come around – but only rarely. One of the few truly enjoyable deadline days came in the January 2011 transfer window when big-money signings Fernando Torres, Luis Suarez, David Luiz and Andy Carroll were recruited in a day’s spending worth £135m.

Maybe fairytales do happen? Only if you’re a Disney fan.

Just to squash those pipe dreams (and bring ourselves back to reality) here are five good reasons to give transfer deadline day a miss.

  1. Watch the football!

Unusually on transfer deadline day there are actual football matches being played. Come 7:45pm everyone’s attention should be well and truly on those, rather than the guff of transfer rumours.

Most exciting of all is the Liverpool vs Chelsea match, where Reds boss Jürgen Klopp is under serious threat of losing his job should Antonio Conte’s league leaders secure three points at Anfield.

A win for the Blues would leave Klopp’s men 13 points off top spot and spell Liverpool’s fourth defeat in 11 days – a run which has seen the Merseysiders eliminated from both domestic cup competitions.

So let’s all watch the football, not the rumours, yeah?

  1. Sky Sports News

If you’re a Sky producer, there is clearly nothing more exciting than watching unfortunate reporters loitering outside training grounds sniffing out the newest transfer rumours from clubs across the country – often in the pouring rain and freezing cold.

Sky have got transfer deadline day so wrong it’s just painful. Who wants to see hours of repetitive ‘breaking news’, unsubstantial updates, snazzy graphics and theatrical presenting?

Their self-indulgent coverage has gone too far. Fair enough, if a big-money signing is made let’s pay attention, but until that happens it’s just not worth our time.

  1. False rumours

These days, with smartphone use in overdrive anyone can be a transfer scout or even a journalist. All it takes is some intrepid fan rocking up to their favourite club’s ground and lucking out with a chance ‘sighting’ of a big-name ‘transfer target’.

Of course, over-enthusiastic fans aren’t just to blame, it’s mostly newspapers. Nonsense rumours, unconfirmed reports, plausible transfer suggestions and the madness of the Chinese Super League just fuel the imaginations of transfer deadline day nutters.

  1. Social media

Nothing says “this is a shambles” like a good-old meme. Whether it be Harry Redknapp’s face photoshopped onto Del Boy’s body, or Jim White’s most ‘memorable’ quotes, social media will usually rip the proverbial out of deadline day.

That said, social media is a rumours wasteland on deadline day, full of time-wasting reports, gossip and users looking to score a few retweets and likes.

Even worse are the users that post ‘breaking news’ from clickbait ‘football news’ accounts and profiles, taking their reports as gospel. Can’t we just watch the football now?

  1. Phone-ins

Football phone-ins are all about opinion and should be encouraged. Better still, fans can have their say on which players they’d like to see move to their respective clubs.

But do we really have to sit through an analysis of the transfer window? And what about the pundits that are regurgitated from show to show without lending any insight into the transfer rumours that are likely to hold true?

Sure, if a former player sheds light on what deadline day is like from a player’s perspective that’s some interesting background, but should washed-up pundits be given a chance to say how clubs should go about their transfer business?

It’s all a matter of taste, but I’d rather see more input from the fans that pay to watch their clubs each week rather than the players that were paid a fortune for to play for them.

You can follow me on Twitter @NeilWalton89 and WordPress: neilwalton089

2016/17 Premier League Preview

The 2016/17 Premier League season has quietly crept up on us just 88 days after Leicester City shocked the world with their astounding title win.

Leicester were priced at 5000/1 at the beginning of last season, but there is no repeat this time around as bookmakers are offering 33/1 to defend their title at the time of writing.

Despite losing N’Golo Kante to Chelsea, The Foxes have kept the core of their league-winning squad together, with top scorer Jamie Vardy signing a new contract.

They have also been boosted by the signings of pacy striker Ahmed Musa and Nampalys Mendy, who is seen as a direct replacement for Kante in midfield.

Whether Leicester can retain their crown remains to be seen, especially with Champions League commitments providing a distraction from their domestic exploits.

If there is one lesson we can learn from last season it’s not to write Claudio Ranieri’s side off.

Elsewhere, the two Manchester clubs look set to slug it out for the spoils with Arsenal and Chelsea.

New Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola has signed an impressive array of young talent including £47.5m John Stones, and City will start the campaign as favourites.

Guardiola, the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss, has left a glittering trail of trophies behind wherever he has worked and will be aiming to crown his first year in charge at the Etihad with the league title.

Arch rival Jose Mourinho has also made some big signings at Manchester United, breaking the world record transfer fee for Paul Pogba (£89m), while Zlatan Ibrahimovic (free), Henrikh Mkhitaryan (£26.3m) and Eric Bailly (£30m) are the other notable acquisitions.

Arsenal have been much quieter, signing only defenders Rob Holding and striker Takuma Asano. With manager Arsene Wenger again reluctant to strengthen his squad, it falls upon his talented team to take a step up in form – however previous seasons suggest it may be too great an ask.

Tottenham have again been quiet in the transfer market after their young side fell at the final hurdle last term.

Mauricio Pochettino has signed midfielder Victor Wanyama (£11m) from former club Southampton and Ajax striker Vincent Janssen (£17m) to give Harry Kane some competition up front.

Chelsea will be aiming for a much better season under new boss Antonio Conte, and the wily Italian will only have the domestic campaign to concentrate on after the London club failed to qualify for European competition.

Michy Batshuayi (£33m) and Kante (£30m) are the club’s big signings and, with Eden Hazard looking best to his best at the Euros, Conte will have plenty to work with as The Blues target a top four place.

Liverpool are outside bets, with boss Jurgen Klopp signing unheralded goalkeeper Loris Karius and centre-back Ragnar Klavan from the German Bundesliga, along with highly-rated defender Joel Matip.

Forwards Sadio Mane (£30m) and Georginio Wijnaldum (£23m) are the biggest deals for the Anfield club so far.

Relegation-wise, the likes of Burnley and Hull appear to be struggling.

Hull have yet to appoint a permanent manager after Steve Bruce’s departure and have made very few signings of note, bringing in only Jonathan Edwards (free) from Peterborough United.

Hull’s squad is dominated by Premier League has-beens such as Jake Livermore, Tom Huddlestone, Michael Dawson and Shaun Maloney.

Burnley will be motivated by the positivity of manager Sean Dyche, but their squad also looks bare and consists of the majority of players relegated from the Premier League

The Clarets will be heavily reliant on the goals of Andre Gray and Sam Vokes, but their defence might not be up to the task – which should prove to be their downfall.

Other than that duo, West Brom have had a tough summer and although they will enjoy a fresh injection of cash from new owner Guochuan Lai their aging squad looks vulnerable this season.

If striker Saido Berahino ends up leaving The Hawthorns this summer The Baggies will seriously struggle for goals.

Boss Tony Pulis loves a challenge and it may be one of the greatest achievements of his managerial career if he keeps Albion up.

Here are my predictions for the 2016/17 season:

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

 

You can follow me on Twitter @NeilWalton89 or WordPress: neilwalton089

Euro 2016 blog 3 – Miserable England dumped out of Euro 2016

It was one of those nights that had an air of inevitability about it.

England, faced with a 1-0 goal lead against supposedly inferior Icelandic opposition, conceded two quick goals, each as woeful as the other, and then proceeded to lumber to defeat.

This was Hollywood lumbering. The supposed megastars of the English game. Players currently commanding multi-million pound wages were lumbering around the field like brain-dead zombies in pursuit of an impossible equaliser.

For the magnificent Iceland, it was their easiest game of the tournament so far. Having taken the lead they could afford to play to their strengths – defend in numbers and then break on the counter-attack.

The tactics worked perfectly because England failed to prepare for them.

Iceland had utilised the booming long throws of Cardiff City midfielder Aron Gunnarsson throughout the whole tournament, but England were hopelessly inept in conceding the equaliser.

It was no surprise to see Kari Arnason’s flicked header from the edge of the area land in Ragnar Sigurdsson’s path. The Iceland centre-back, who had a towering game, lashed home the volley in a sea of space to cancel out Wayne Rooney’s fourth-minute penalty.

What followed was equally predictable.

Putting together one of the moves of the match, Iceland swept upfield with ease, shifting the ball to target man Kolbeinn Sigthorsson, whose shot squirmed underneath Joe Hart’s pitiful dive.

Hart’s second grave error of the tournament – and second when diving low to his left – cast England into the land of the living dead.

Suddenly, players who had had magnificent seasons in the Premier League caved under the pressure.

The tension was palpable even before the match began. Joe Hart in particularly was too tense – nervous, even – shaking his head as if to rid himself of the strain.

As Ian Wright remarked after the match, England “were petrified.”

Wayne Rooney was dreadful. Gary Cahill was worse. Harry Kane was shocking. Manager Roy Hodgson resigned after the match.

Kane’s presence over free-kicks and corners was torturous. It was as if he tried to copy Gareth Bale, scored a worldy in training and was suddenly England’s best free-kick taker. He failed horribly.

His demise to the land of the dead, where his touch against Iceland was heavier than that of a zombie, was the scariest to watch.

Free-kick after free-kick. Shot after shot. Each clubbed wildly shy of the target with increasing desperation.

It was a disease that spread through the England side as the game wore on. To a man, their first touch was awful, with players letting the ball roll under their foot and technique malfunctioning.

There was no pressing of the opposition, no desire and no quality.

Too many times England were hesitant going forward. There was a suffocating tendency to pass the ball sideways. There was barely any creativity and only lethargic movement off the ball.

Substitute Marcus Rashford was the brightest spark, at least showing a willingness and ability to beat defenders and inject some life into a motionless attack.

Take nothing away from Iceland though. It is insignificant that they have a population of just over 300,000. What mattered was their commitment to the cause, their execution of a gameplan and tactics, plus their desire to put their bodies on the line.

Their fans were astounding. The cavernous ‘Viking chant’ even intimidated those watching on television. They supported their team in unison with passion, deafening noise and zero violence. They were a lesson to the footballing world.

On the pitch, the players followed suit.

Ragnar Sigurdsson delivered a man-of-the-match display in defence. Birkir Bjarnason menaced England on the counter and Ari Skulason completely shut down the pace of Kyle Walker.

Their display fully merited the win and a quarter-final match against hosts France, and who would bet against them defeating another under-fire team?

But for England this was a truly horrific match.

They haven’t learned from previous mistakes and have a nightmare record in knockout football.

They are paralysed by fear when the going gets tough, crippled by pressure and expectation.

Their gruesome fate was inevitable as soon as the 18th minute. They were dead and buried. The referee should have blown for full-time there and then – a kind of footballing euthanasia.

But unusually for these zombies they will get another chance in the land of the living. They will be praised again and all will be well…until the next major tournament comes along.

You can follow me on Twitter @NeilWalton89 and WordPress: neilwalton089

Euro 2016: Can France win at home again?

 

It’s been 18 years since France last hosted a major tournament and expectation levels will be just as high this time round.

In 1998, France stuffed a dismal Brazil 3-0 in the World Cup final and they enter Euro 2016 not only as hosts but as favourites too.

Most bookmakers have them priced at 3/1 about the win, with Germany (9/2), Spain (5/1) and England (9/1) as alternatives.

The French certainly have a heap of pressure on them – not least because they lack a star striker after Karim Benzema’s suspension from the national team.

Olivier Giroud is the obvious candidate to fill the void left by Benzema, with the Arsenal striker’s goalscoring record of 17 in 49 games bettering Benzema’s 27 in 81 in percentage terms.

Giroud still has his critics and although he lacks star quality he is often underestimated in terms of pure goalscoring ability and will certainly score his fair share this summer.

Antoine Griezmann has also emerged as a world-class forward option for France and is capable of playing on either wing or in behind the striker where he has been so effective for Atletico Madrid.

But Les Bleus’ midfield really catches the eye.

Premier League duo N’Golo Kante and Dimitri Payet have each staked a claim for a starting place in the tournament opener against Romania on June 10, but France boss Didier Deschamps will most likely call upon stars Paul Pogba and Blaise Matuidi to dominate the midfield battle.

However, the French defence looks a little suspect with five of the selected eight defenders over the age of 30 and with no stand-out leader amongst them.

The back-line also lacks pace with only Lucas Digne and Bacary Sagna quick enough to resist Europe’s slickest wingers.

Les Bleus will therefore count on captain Hugo Lloris to be in top form during the tournament after his excellent season with Premier League side Spurs.

Lloris has established himself as one of the most coveted goalkeepers in Europe and will be a formidable presence between the sticks as France look to emulate their success of 1984 in winning their home European Championships.

Standing in their way will be Germany, who look a good price to secure their second successive major tournament win off the back of their World Cup triumph in Brazil two years ago.

Given their wealth of creative options in midfield and up front, the Germans seem to have been underestimated and will feel aggrieved not to be seen as the favourites heading into the tournament.

Like the French, their main weakness lies in defence after a raft of retirements following the World Cup.

Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng will form a strong central defensive partnership but there is little to shout about in the full-back positions and it is in those areas where their opponents will hope to make inroads.

Spain have undoubtedly the strongest defence in the championship with a back line of Jordi Alba, Sergio Ramos, Gerard Pique and Juanfran.

If coach Vicente del Bosque can withdraw his blind preference for goalkeeper Iker Casillas and choose David de Gea instead, Spain will have a monstrous back five.

The main problem for Spain is their lack of strikers.

Chelsea hitman Diego Costa has been unconvincing at international level and does not travel to France, leaving Spain’s main striking options as Alvaro Morata, Aritz Aduriz and Pedro.

Much will hinge on the power of their midfield in the defence of their title, with Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas and David Silva all likely to start and the industry of Koke a helpful balance to an attack-minded engine room.

Then there is England, a definite outside shot but a team unlikely to make it past the semi-finals.

They have one of the youngest squads on show in France but their defence, like so many others, is a telling flaw and one which is likely to be exploited in ruthless fashion.

The promise of attacking trio Harry Kane, Jamie Vardy and Dele Alli is something to savour for England boss Roy Hodgson but his main dilemma is accommodating captain Wayne Rooney in the same team.

The most sensible option is to play him in deep midfield and give him a controlling influence on the game, but Hodgson is still keen to play him in a number ten role which harms the effectiveness of Alli.

Still, this is England’s most exciting team for some time and they will be aiming to right the wrongs of the World Cup.

But, for the overall win it is hard to pick France in favour of Germany. The German midfield has an embarrassment of riches and despite their defensive frailties they will be devastating going forward – just too good for the competition.

You can follow me on Twitter @NeilWalton89 and WordPress: neilwalton089

Euro debate: Rooney in, or Rooney out?

Aside from the EU referendum, the next biggest debate about Europe surrounds the final 23-man England squad for the upcoming European Championship in France.

England boss Roy Hodgson has a tough job on his hands, with much discussion circling around players such as Wayne Rooney, Marcus Rashford and Andros Townsend.

On Rooney, the Vote Leave campaign will argue that he has been nowhere near his best this season.

His tally of eight goals and seven assists in the Premier League last season is mediocre by his standards.

But the Remain campaign would retort that he has had a couple of injuries and has been involved in a goal once every two games.

There is also the fact that Rooney is coming into form at the end of the season after a man-of-the-match performance in Manchester United’s FA Cup final win over Crystal Palace and a superb 20-yard strike against Australia in England’s penultimate Euro warm-up match.

Rooney himself has admitted he sees his future in a deeper position for club and country and there is definitely room to accommodate him at the base of Hodgson’s preferred midfield diamond in France.

Hodgson is keen to use Jack Wilshere in that position but he is desperately short of game time and looked off-form in England’s two warm-up games to date.

Using Rooney in that position would allow him to fulfil a role similar to that of Toni Kroos, who uses his fine array of passes to dictate play deep in the German midfield.

Rooney’s skill set is comparable to Kroos’ and his ability to spray long, diagonal balls in the mould of Steven Gerrard, Paul Scholes and Kroos certainly adds weight to his midfield argument.

Of course, Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy deserve to start up front against Russia in the first match of the Euros.

The strike pair notched 49 league goals between them last season and it is Kane’s relationship with Dele Alli, who is expected to start just behind them in the number ten position, that Hodgson is eager to preserve.

Therefore, deciding to play Rooney in midfield allows Hodgson to keep England’s captain and record goalscorer in the team, while conserving the exciting forward trio that England have developed since the 2014 World Cup.

So which three players should Hodgson drop from the squad?

Unfortunately for Hodgson some hypocrisy is creeping into his squad selection.

He has always indicated he would pick players on form – his inclusion of Marcus Rashford at least demonstrates his loyalty to form players.

However, there is a glaring exception to his rule in the form of Adam Lallana.

Liverpool’s creative midfielder has been anything but this season, scoring just four goals and assisting six more in 30 league games – even James Milner has more this term.

Lallana has endured an inconsistent season in Jürgen Klopp’s team and his England record is dreadful for a player of his technical ability.

In 22 games for the national side he has scored none and assisted just twice.

Hodgson may be persisting with Lallana because of his ability to play in a number of positions but the statistics don’t lie and they show Lallana to be ineffective at the top level, meaning he should not travel to France this summer.

Despite having a breakthrough season for champions Leicester City, Danny Drinkwater should also miss the Euros.

Hodgson is blessed with several options in midfield and has Jordan Henderson fit again, Eric Dier capable of playing in front of the back four, Jack Wilshere his number one choice, James Milner as a utility player and Wayne Rooney also as a classy alternative.

Drinkwater has quietly gone about his business in the warm-up games but has not done enough to suggest he is worthy of a place over the established midfielders in the squad.

The final player to miss out looks set to be Andros Townsend.

Hodgson is faced with a tough call between Townsend, Ross Barkley and Raheem Sterling, but it is the out-and-out winger who is struggling when pitted against the others.

Barkley has always been a regular in Hodgson’s plans, while Sterling’s versatility up front leaves Townsend looking vulnerable to the chop from England’s final squad.

Townsend has had a great finish to the season with relegated Newcastle, but it is too little too late and he will be left to rue a difficult time at Spurs where chances for him were limited.

However, the likes of Barkley and Sterling have flattered to deceive at international level and the pair will undoubtedly be looking over their shoulders until the announcement is made.

It would be hard to see Hodgson dropping Daniel Sturridge if he is fit, while Rashford deserves the opportunity to travel on form and given he is at times used as a makeshift winger.

As a result, Townsend can count himself unlucky to miss out should he be omitted from the final 23.

You can follow me on Twitter @NeilWalton89 and WordPress: neilwalton089

My 2015/16 Premier League predictions

Can anyone detect the faint rumble of a new Premier League season ahead? Maybe it’s the ubiquitous Sky Sports adverts, or the imposing BT Sport billboards? Or maybe just the football?

Ah yes, it’s definitely the football.

Normally, nothing much should be ascertained from pre-season – especially with regards to form. However, there have been some noticeably quiet clubs in the transfer window – with some more in need of fresh faces than others.

What seems to be clearest though, is that the 2015/16 Premier League season will be closer than the last campaign.

Anyway, enough waffling. Let’s get stuck in to the main course – some predictions.

  1. Sunderland – 16th last season – 9/4 to be relegated

Wearsiders look away now. This season has the makings of relegation for Dick Advocaat’s side. Sunderland will need goals to stay up, but having sold Connor Wickham and with the misfiring Danny Graham and Steven Fletcher supporting an aging Jermain Defoe, they are in big trouble. One ray of light is the signing of Jeremain Lens, a goalscoring Dutch midfielder – but one good deal alone is not going to save the Black Cats.

  1. Bournemouth – Championship winners last season – 7/5 to be relegated

The Cherries make their Premier League debut after snatching the Championship title from under Watford’s noses, but they look short of the requirements to stave off relegation. Boss Eddie Howe has made some interesting signings, with 37-year-old Sylvain Distin, Christian Atsu and Max Gradel all coming to Dean Court. Bournemouth play some attractive football and have plenty of energy in their side but in terms of defensive quality they are desperately short, and that spells doom.

  1. Leicester City – 14th last season – 3/1 to be relegated

Like all promoted clubs, Leicester’s target was merely to stay up. They did so dramatically as a stunning end-of-season winning run helped them survive by six points. Claudio Ranieri has assumed managerial control after the anti-PR Nigel Pearson was sacked, but “The Tinkerman” has hardly enhanced his reputation after a dismally poor stint with Greece. New signings include Shinji Okazaki and N’Golo Kante, but a defence that conceded 55 goals last season looks like relegation material.

  1. Watford – Championship runners-up last season – 6/5 to stay up

Having snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in the Championship title race last season, Watford have wasted no time in preparing themselves for the Premier League, making 11 signings for a combined £21m. They have bought astutely, with Valon Behrami and Jose Holebas the headliners. The good news for Watford is that they have goals in them. Captain Troy Deeney, coveted by many PL clubs, scored 21 league goals last term and his goals could prove crucial in keeping them up.

  1. Norwich City – Championship play-off winners – 4/5 to stay up

The main advantage Norwich have this season is that most of their squad has Premier League experience and in Alex Neil they have a tenacious manager with a growing reputation. This summer they have strengthened in midfield with Youssouf Mulumbu arriving from West Brom and the guile of Robbie Brady adding a threat from dead-ball situations. Norwich will be fine this season, and a nice little bonus would be a return to form for Ricky van Wolfswinkel.

  1. Aston Villa – 17th last season – 3/1 to be relegated

If Aston Villa had not found a replacement for Christian Benteke, they would have been in big trouble, but in Rudy Gestede they have a striker ready to step up to the Premier League. Manager Tim Sherwood has also been in talks with Emmanuel Adebayor and, after getting the most out of him at Spurs, repeating the trick could be worth up to 15 goals. Villa’s young side will feel the loss of Fabian Delph, but offsetting his departure is the bright talent of Jack Grealish.

  1. West Ham – 12th last season – 8/15 for a bottom 10 finish

If West Ham end up qualifying for the Europa League their Premier League season could go up in smoke. The average cost of a Europa League campaign was recently put at -4 points by a PL statistician. Add to that the fatigue of starting your season in early July and boss Sam Allardyce will have some tired players come May. The signing of Dimitri Payet with his eye-catching skill is exciting Hammers fans as another solid season awaits.

  1. West Brom – 13th last season – 9/2 to be top Midlands club

The Baggies have cause for optimism this season as the emergence of Saido Berahino continues to develop. His 14-goal campaign helped them massively last season and the wily Tony Pulis has pulled off a great signing in Rickie Lambert, who struggled to impose himself at Liverpool. Lambert and Berahino are set to form a fantastic combination and, with a propensity for putting defence first, Pulis will guide West Brom to another mid-table finish, with the top ten within reach.

  1. Crystal Palace – 10th last season – 4/7 for a bottom 10 finish

Palace have signed some excellent players this summer, not least Yohan Cabaye from PSG. The Frenchman will be keen to cement a place in the France squad with a home Euro 2016 campaign next summer and his goalscoring prowess at Newcastle under boss Alan Pardew’s guidance is another good sign. Connor Wickham has also arrived, while Eagles fans will be hoping that Yannick Bolasie kicks on from his breakthrough displays last term.

  1. Newcastle United – 15th last season – 1/2 to be top North East club

New manager Steve McClaren was building a good team at Derby, but has ditched them to join Newcastle. Drawing on his time in Holland, McClaren has kept a close eye on neighbours Belgium and has dipped into the transfer market to bring in Anderlecht pair Aleksandar Mitrovic and Chancel Mbemba. The goals of Serbia striker Mitrovic are much needed in Tyneside and with McClaren’s focus on defending they will challenge for a top ten finish.

  1. Stoke – 9th last season – 10/1 to finish tenth

Ex-Barcelona striker Mark Hughes seems set on raiding his former club to bring as many Barcelona players to the Potteries as he can. Marc Muniesa and Bojan were already on the club’s books, and now Ibrahim Afellay joins them. Afellay struggled with injury and lack of form for Barca, but if Hughes can get him fit his pace will be a major threat. Hughes has also added Marco van Ginkel to his ranks, and another top ten finish will be the target for the ambitious Welsh manager.

  1. Swansea – 8th last season – 6/4 for a top 10 finish

The Swans have been fairly quiet in the transfer market but the quality of their squad is there for all to see. Often lauded as playing the most attractive football in the league, Garry Monk’s side have added striker Eder to replace Wilfried Bony, with Andre Ayew another capable arrival up front. Swansea will be aiming for a Europa League spot but they may come up just short.

  1. Southampton – 7th last season – 40/1 to go unbeaten at home

Saints boss Ronald Koeman is a pragmatic coach, and he will realise that the club’s Europa League exploits will have an impact on their Premier League endeavours. The signing of Jordy Clasie is a massive coup for the south coast side, while the return to fitness of Jay Rodriguez will give Koeman a potent extra option up front, but overall their season might not hit the heights of last.

  1. Everton – 11th last season – 4/11 for a top 10 finish

Everton will expect a big improvement on last season when a taxing run in Europe impacted their Premier League ambitions. Romelu Lukaku scored just 10 PL goals last term and will aim for 15 this season, while the permanent signing of Gerard Deulofeu adds pace and creativity. Everton boast the best PL full-backs in Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman, but Roberto Martinez’s best work has been to rebuff the overtures from Chelsea for centre-back John Stones.

  1. Spurs – 5th last season – 8/11 for a top 6 finish

White Hart Lane purred at the form of striker Harry Kane last season, but the goals dried up at the end as the strain of his first full PL season took hold. Kane’s challenge will be to sustain his goalscoring form throughout the campaign as Spurs push for a Europa League place and beyond. Argentine manager Mauricio Pochettino has reinforced his defence with Toby Alderweireld and Kieran Tripper arriving, but will they plug the leakiest defence in the top ten last season?

  1. Liverpool – 6th last season – 4/7 for a top 5 finish

The spending at Anfield has risen to £300m under Brendan Rodgers’ stewardship, and now he must start producing results. Roberto Firmino and Christian Benteke have arrived for £60m, but the club has departed with Raheem Sterling for £49m. Jordon Ibe seems like a ready-made replacement for Sterling, and this could be his breakthrough season. There is no doubting the quality of players at Liverpool, but is their manager holding them back?

  1. Manchester City – 2nd last season – 3/1 to win title

There is a stuttering around Man City’s form over the past 12 months that seems more serious than the club are willing to admit. Yaya Toure has gone off the boil and last season the squad’s average age was the highest in the league. A signing of massive intent was made with Sterling, and manager Manuel Pellegrini is hoping to add Kevin de Bruyne for a cool £60m as he looks to freshen up City’s midfield. Sergio Aguero may miss the start of the season but he will score 20 goals when fit, however, worryingly for City their defence is getting shakier and that could prove their downfall this term.

  1. Manchester United – 4th last season – 11/2 to win title

United announced their first signing – Memphis Depay for £31m – very early on and he has looked excellent in partnership with Wayne Rooney in pre-season. United’s signings have been eye-catching, with Bastian Schweinsteiger prised from Bayern Munich and Morgan Schneiderlin, Sergio Romero and Matteo Darmian following. Darmian looks the dark horse of the transfer window, as the Italian right-back tore teams apart at the World Cup and went relatively unnoticed. United have strengthened but their defence remains a concern and will end up costing them the league.

  1. Chelsea – reigning champions – 7/4 to win title

Jose Mourinho has been unusually calm in the transfer window, happy to sign players only when one leaves. Asmir Begovic is their only signing of note, but goalkeeping stalwart Petr Cech has left for Arsenal, which paved the way for Begovic to sign as competition to Thibault Courtois. The trouble for Chelsea lies up front this season. Diego Costa is injury and suspension prone, while Radamel Falcao has struggled desperately at Premier League level. Too much pressure could be placed on Eden Hazard for goals and that could mean Chelsea faltering in their title defence.

  1. Arsenal – 3rd last season – 4/1 to win title

This could be the year that all the talent finally translates into a Premier League title for Arsene Wenger and his squad. A midfield studded with jewels such as Aaron Ramsey, Alexis Sanchez and Santi Cazorla is backed up by the energy of Francis Coquelin and Jack Wilshere. Up front, Theo Walcott is back from injury and Olivier Giroud will always score goals. Cech’s arrival boosts a defence marshalled by the impressive Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny, while Hector Bellerin is the best young full-back in the league. Arsenal, more than any other team in the league, are capable of destroying teams at will and the presence of a world-class keeper in Cech will spread confidence throughout the team. Arsenal are champions in the making.

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Why have Manchester City failed this season?

What has happened to Manchester City this season?

The Citizens started the season well, shadowing early pace-setters Chelsea in what looked to be a credible defence of their Premier League title.

Step forward into February and another rendezvous with Champions League nemesis Barcelona, and the picture becomes a little clearer.

Ever since City were bought by their Emirati owners there has been one major objective: To win the Champions League.

Big-name players such as Yaya Toure, Sergio Aguero and Carlos Tevez soon arrived at the Etihad Stadium in a bid to quench that thirst for the European Cup.

Yet City have struggled in Europe’s elite club competition, with only two appearances in the last 16 and suffering defeats to Barcelona both times – including this season.

A 2-1 home loss in February after a Luis Suarez double began a terrible run of form that has seen them lose five consecutive away games to Liverpool, Burnley, Barcelona, Crystal Palace and, worst of all, Manchester United.

During that time they have only picked up Premier League wins at home to lowly Leicester and West Brom.

Reading between the lines it seems that City’s players have effectively eased off the gas after it became clear their search for the Champions League trophy wasn’t going to end well.

Their demise would be easier to understand if they were miles behind in the league with nothing to play for, but they are the reigning champions and were second in the league before the home loss to Barcelona.

Players such as Toure have been very lacklustre this season in general, and a lack of vibrancy in their play has finally caught up with them.

Despite splashing £28m on Wilfried Bony during the January transfer window, the majority of City’s signings have failed to make an impression.

Eliaqium Mangala, the £32m central defender is the biggest disappointment so far, while Fernando (£12m) and Bacary Sagna (free) have also been ineffectual.

City’s best signing has been Frank Lampard who, with seven goals in 31 appearances this season, was a canny piece of business before he moves to New York City FC at the end of the campaign.

However, with Bony being City’s youngest signing at 26 years old there is a further problem with manager Manuel Pellegrini’s transfer policy.

A lack of new, young and exciting players has ultimately led to City’s current situation.

Their ageing team not only looks old it looks tired, it lacks pace and above all, it lacks enthusiasm.

Delving deeper into the statistics helps to flesh out the sorry detail for City fans.

City have the oldest squad in the Premier League this season, with the average age of their squad hitting 28.8 years old.

Compare this to their immediate rivals Manchester United (25.44 – 2nd youngest), Arsenal (26 – 5th youngest) and Chelsea (27.08 – 9th oldest) and it is difficult to see why City have not invested in emerging talent.

Perhaps they are pinning all their hopes on polishing up the next stars of the game from their £200m state-of-the-art training academy?

That seems unlikely, given the timescale involved.

They could easily have sprayed millions of pounds around on players like Marco Reus or Raheem Sterling, but they have chosen not to.

They have also elected to offload their existing youngsters on loan, with the likes of Scott Sinclair, John Guidetti and Karim Rekik all enjoying good spells at their respective new clubs.

Now, the time has come for Manuel Pellegrini to invest in fresh, energetic new players and ditch the deadwood such as Aleksandar Kolarov, Jesus Navas and Samir Nasri.

However, whether Manuel Pellegrini gets the chance to do so is another matter.

The trouble for City is that there are few world-class managers around to replace Pellegrini, yet with the funds made available and the promise of starting a new chapter there are many who would be tempted.

Who said money can’t buy happiness?

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The best and worst 2014/15 Premier League transfers

There’s something inspiring about signing a new player in a transfer window.

It might be the hope that this could finally be your club’s year to make it into Europe, or the excitement surrounding your new striker’s goalscoring record in some faraway league.

Whatever excites the fans in their own unique way, their opinion on new signings often boils down to “he’s dynamite”, or quite bluntly “he’s not fit to wear the shirt.”

The 2014 summer and 2015 winter transfer windows saw plenty of activity, with financial experts Deloitte reporting a record spend of £950m by Premier League clubs this season.

With the campaign rapidly coming to an end, the big question to ask is which signings have been savvy and which ones have been flops?

Here is my list of the top five best and worst transfers this season, starting as always with the best.

  1. Lukasz Fabianski – Swansea City – Goalkeeper – Free transfer from Arsenal

Having been overtaken in the Arsenal pecking order by Poland team-mate Wojciech Szczesny, it seemed logical for Fabianski to join Swansea, especially on a free transfer. He has responded with 11 clean sheets so far this term and a string of impressive displays with arguably only David de Gea and Thibault Courtois performing better this season.

  1. Ryan Bertrand – Southampton – Left-back – £10m from Chelsea

Ryan Bertrand is another young ex-Chelsea player who will probably return to bite Jose Mourinho in the backside. His form for Southampton this season was so good that the Saints quickly moved to turn Bertrand’s loan deal into a permanent one, spending £10m on a player who has provided a seamless replacement for Luke Shaw at left-back with two goals, three assists and 12 clean sheets. Bargain.

  1. Ander Herrera – Manchester United – Central midfielder – £28.4m from Athletic Bilbao

Herrera’s dynamic box-to-box performances have caught the eye of many this season, including transfer-banned Barcelona. Boss Louis van Gaal has afforded him a starting berth and each of Herrera’s five PL goals have come when he has started and finished a whole 90 minutes. Add to that his four assists with just seven full 90 minutes under his belt and you’d think United would play him more often.

  1. Diego Costa – Chelsea – Striker – £32m from Atletico Madrid

Sceptics scoffed at Costa’s price after a dismal World Cup and a history of hamstring injuries. However, a sustained period of early-season fitness has enabled Costa to bag 19 goals so far this season, but he has since suffered with a couple of hamstring setbacks and a suspension. His temper has also been tested by niggling centre-backs and a shocking stamp on Liverpool’s Emre Can in January further fuelled his hot-headed reputation.

  1. Alexis Sanchez – Arsenal – Forward – £35m from Barcelona

When the chance to sign Sanchez arose, boss Arsenal Wenger jumped at the chance. The diminutive Chilean forward has lit up the Premier League this season with his pace, trickery and some sublime goals. In just over 2,300 minutes of PL football Sanchez has netted 14 goals and provided eight assists, but it is his work-rate which allies to his attacking play to make him a world-class player. By far the best signing of the campaign.

Onwards to the bad…

  1. Brown Ideye – West Brom – Striker – £10m from Dynamo Kiev

West Brom had tall hopes for the Nigerian striker after he scored 33 goals in 74 games. But, after being overshadowed by Saido Berahino at the Hawthorns, his woeful tally of four goals in 20 appearances fails to support The Baggies’ club-record transfer fee. Despite a difficult first season he could flourish under the direction of Tony Pulis next year.

  1. Federico Fazio – Spurs – Centre-back – £8m from Sevilla

Guilty of a string of high-profile errors, Fazio has endured a wretched opening season at White Hart Lane. Spurs have only kept three clean sheets with him in their line-up in 2014/15 and his movement, particularly on the turn, has been heavily criticised. Mauricio Pochettino will no doubt keep faith in the Argentine but he needs to improve quickly.

  1. Eliaquim Mangala – Manchester City – Centre-back – £32m from Porto

Manchester City won the race for the highly-coveted Frenchman in the summer, but he has failed to impress himself on a troubled City defence this season. His fee of £32m is the highest paid by a PL club for a defender, but Mangala has delivered inconsistent displays with some bordering on terrible.

  1. Angel di Maria – Manchester United – Winger – £59.7m from Real Madrid

Life in English football started so well for Angel di Maria. In his first six games he scored three goals and set up four more, but hasn’t found the net since October. The British transfer record signing has been severely affected by a break-in at his Cheshire home and, while he has started to show signs of recovering his early good form, a barren spell in the winter has led to criticism of his whopping fee.

  1. Radamel Falcao – Manchester United – Striker – £6m loan from Monaco

Once the most sought-after striker in the world, scoring goals for fun at Porto and Atletico Madrid, Falcao has truly flopped in the Premier League. He has failed to come to terms with aerial duels and rugged defenders and has ultimately failed to adjust to the style of English football. In sympathy for the Colombian joint-record goalscorer, his runs are not being picked out and he is tracking deeper just to touch the ball. However, his luck may change with Herrera, Michael Carrick and Juan Mata in midfield. Still, his four goals have been little reason to suggest that United will make his loan move permanent, especially when faced with a monstrous £43.6m fee.

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Balotelli penalty earns Liverpool lead

Liverpool 1 (Balotelli (p) 85’)

Besiktas 0

Mario Balotelli’s coolly converted penalty gave Liverpool a narrow win against Besiktas in the first leg of their Europa League last 32 tie at Anfield.

Teenage winger Jordon Ibe was the creator, with his run forcefully ended in the box by Ramon Motta just before the byline.

Demba Ba had spurned a glorious first-half opportunity for an away goal but shot too close to a sprawling Simon Mignolet when clean through.

Liverpool had struggled to invent good attacking situations throughout the game and were grateful to the newly-contracted Ibe, who was a rare creative influence in an even game.

Despite the Liverpool starting XI shorn of Steven Gerrard through injury and with Raheem Sterling dropped to the bench, the home side began quickly with a trademark Ibe run allowing Daniel Sturridge to fashion a shot after some byline trickery.

Liverpool had dominated the opening 15 minutes without adding to Sturridge’s opportunity, but it was Besiktas who supplied the game’s next major chance when captain Veli Kavlak’s powerful header flew just wide of Mignolet’s left-hand post.

After offering little in attack, Besiktas began to grow into the game with the slippery Gökhan Töre their best outlet on the right with manager Slaven Bilic’s counter-attacking tactics clear to see.

The Turkish side then wasted a massive chance when ex-Chelsea striker Ba raced clear after a slick one-two with Olcay Sahan, but the Senegalese hitman failed to beat Mignolet in a situation similar to the one where he buried Liverpool’s title hopes last season following Gerrard’s infamous slip.

Brendan Rodgers’ side responded before the break with a fierce 40-yard drive from Alberto Moreno before Jordan Henderson saw a free-kick curl just wide of goal with Besiktas keeper Cenk Gönen motionless.

The Reds continued their momentum into the second half and nearly panicked the visitors into conceding when Gönen flapped at a Henderson cross, only for Adam Lallana to spoon wastefully into The Kop from three yards.

With Besiktas resolute in defence, Rodgers thrust Balotelli into the action at the expense of Joe Allen, before introducing Dejan Lovren in a move which allowed Emre Can to occupy his preferred midfield role.

Lovren then missed the target with a looping header and, with chances at a premium, Rodgers sent Sterling on for the quiet Lallana in a bid to secure a precious advantage for the second leg in Turkey.

Yet it was Ibe, who had drifted through the second half, who provided the attacking inspiration as Liverpool secured a late winner.

Ibe’s superb run drew a rash foul from Motta inside the area and the ice cool Balotelli slotted home the penalty with just five minutes remaining.

Besiktas attempted to find an equaliser but never troubled Liverpool as the hosts held on to take a slender advantage to the Ataturk Stadium next week.

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The gap between football rich and poor

It was only the third game of newly-promoted Burnley’s Premier League season.

They would be facing a team in transition – Manchester United.

United, England’s most successful club, had named British record signing Angel di Maria in their starting line-up as the Argentine made his debut after joining for £59.7m from Real Madrid.

Di Maria’s price, and the reservoir of funds United have at their fingertips, completely eclipse anything Burnley have spent in their 132-year existence.

The Tykes have only splashed £45m on transfers since their inaugural season in 1882 but, facing a Manchester United XI assembled for £214.2m they earned a creditable 0-0 draw.

With this level of spending, United are hoping they will tempt the best players in the world to the club so they can return to Champions League football – something they missed out on this season under David Moyes’ leadership in 2013-14.

Burnley’s shoestring budget illustrates just how difficult it is to compete with the big spending giants of the Premier League, despite receiving £48m over four years since their relegation from the top flight in 2010.

Not only this, the three promoted clubs in 2014 gained a £60m revenue boost – £55m of which is from broadcasting fees.

Despite this combined stream of £108m for ‘yo-yo-ing’ between the Premier League and Championship, Burnley – and most of the league – still can’t hope to match the biggest clubs in the transfer market.

UEFA, European football’s governing body, sought to help rectify the current imbalance by introducing Financial Fair Play rules, but so far only Manchester City and Paris Saint-German have been stung.

This financial ‘sting’ is mere peanuts when compared to their financial clout, but each team competing in either the Champions League or Europa League received a share of their fines, amounting to €265,000 going to each of the 70 clubs involved in European football this season.

UEFA, though, are profiting hugely from Champions League and Europa League broadcasting revenues.

They expect their revenues to rise a whopping 30% to €1.75bn in the 2015-18 commercial sales cycle.

This is partly due to the extortionate fees that broadcasting companies are prepared to pay in order to show the world’s finest club competitions.

In Britain, BT Sport paid an astonishing £897m for the rights to show live Champions League and Europa League football for three seasons from the beginning of the 2015-16 campaign.

UEFA have been criticised for not giving second, third and fourth tier clubs a proportionate share of these huge sums of money, but the reality is that they probably could.

Before the 30% growth forecast for 2015-18, their income stood at €1.3bn, with €900m of that being shared amongst the clubs who participated in the Champions League and Europa League.

Some financial experts have even suggested that UEFA will look to bring in even greater financial rewards for the clubs that qualify for European competitions.

That potential move is aimed at reducing the gap between football’s super-rich clubs and the rich ones – but it widens the gap between the rich and the poorer ones.

In effect, the move would create a vicious circle.

The clubs with the biggest budgets attract the best players and tend to occupy the top spots in domestic leagues, thus qualifying for European competitions and earning UEFA’s prize money.

This makes them even richer and makes it harder for clubs to break into the clique-like qualifying positions for Europe’s top club competitions.

In short, those clubs who do not and who cannot qualify for European football are being cut further adrift.

It is a problem that UEFA has failed to address and is leading to problems with grassroots football across a host of Europe’s major footballing countries, including England.

A large share of the blame must also fall on domestic leagues.

In England, the Premier League are often ridiculed for their distribution of broadcasting fees.

The most recent round of bidding generated £3bn in broadcasting revenue, with Sky paying £2.3bn for live coverage of 116 games a season and BT Sport paying £738m for 38 live matches each season from the 2012-13 campaign.

£1.1bn of prize money was given to the 20 clubs in the Premier League last season, with clubs earning an additional £750,000 per live game on TV.

Additionally, teams earned £1.2m in merit money for every place gained, meaning Cardiff earned £1.2m for finishing bottom and Manchester City earned £24m for winning the title.

That meant the total merit money distributed by the Premier League came to £252m last season.

In total, that means £1.5bn has been distributed by the Premier League – just half of the three-year cycle of broadcasting fees alone.

So, while Premier League clubs are quite well off, the disparity between the top two divisions – in England and indeed most countries in Europe – is substantial and growing further still.

The question is whether FIFA, UEFA or the domestic governing bodies will do something to address the problem?

For the minute, the current arrangements certainly seem to ensure the football rich get richer and the poorer stay poor.

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