6 into 4 Doesn’t Work

Welcome / Willkommen / Bienvenido!

It’s true folks I’m back.

Apologies for the lack of content towards the back-end of 2016. Things to do, people to see etc.  You know how it goes.

But like I said I’m back, but more importantly welcome to 2017! Let’s hope it doesn’t put us through 12 rounds with AJ like 2016 did.

When Andy Williams wrote the trademark Christmas song ‘It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year’ rumour has it, he was actually singing about January. Yes that’s right people, January brings us crazy spending, impulse buys and career making decisions. It is of course the January Transfer Window.

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One whole glorious month dedicated to clubs to either strengthen or save their respective season. It’s a pivotal moment in the campaign for managers, with only half a season left to avoid the ever-present fear of getting the proverbial boot. (No pun intended. Okay you saw through me, maybe a little one was intended)

With Chelsea topping the table at Christmas time, this season has a much more ‘familiar’ feel about it after Leicester City’s unexpected incredible feat last season. Make no bones about it, last season was an astonishing season, but for different reasons this season could turn out to be even more exciting (Perhaps not if you support Leicester City though!)

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The 2016-17 season could and hopefully will be remembered for being a 6-horse race, and should provide to be an exhilarating journey until the Champions get crowned in May.

Even when Chelsea have threatened to run away with the title race in recent weeks, deadly Dele struck twice for Spurs to ensure the winning streak came to an end for Conte.

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It would appear that all six, yes that’s right SIX teams have a realistic chance of lifting the trophy come May and become champions of England.

So.. Aim of this article?

I’m going to attempt to apply some of that useless irrelevant football knowledge I have, and discuss where each of these teams need to strengthen, during the January window and also try to predict the final league standings.

 Wish me luck.

Let’s start with the leaders; Chelsea  img_1183

After a rocky start to life in the Premier League, Conte has adapted superbly – Guiding his side to top of the table and 13 victories on the bounce. At this moment in time they are obviously favourites to win the league. But favourites don’t always succeed. Otherwise we’d all win our acca’s at the weekend.

Area to Strengthen:

 LWB: Marcos Alonso deserves a lot of credit for his performances this season, his ability to bomb up and down the flank and his crosses in particular have been an added bonus to Conte’s team. But Italians pride themselves on their defensive displays and defensively I’m still not sold on the Ex – Real Madrid man. Chelsea’s search to replace Ashley Cole continues.

(Did you know? Marcos Alonso only made 1 appearance for Real Madrid in 2010)

CM: This is a late addition. But after watching how the Spurs midfield controlled the game against Chelsea in midweek, and in particular how Mousa Dembélé played. It was noticeable what Chelsea were missing. The Belgium international is known for his silky dribbling and his ability to maintain possession, something IMO Chelsea need next to the destroyer known as N’Golo Kanté. There’s no argument that Chelsea have the best defensive midfielder in the league. They just need more energy in the middle of the park which Fàbregas & Matić haven’t got anymore.

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ST: With the lack of game time and the consistently great form of Diego Costa this season, it seems Michy Batshuayi’s time at Chelsea might be short-lived. It would appear that Batshuayi has fallen down the pecking order considerably under Conte, who would rather play Pedro as the lone attacking option when Costa isn’t available. But perhaps a run in the FA Cup will help Batshuayi to impress the Italian.

Prediction:  2nd    *Chelsea fans before you begin reporting me, hear me out*

I firmly believe Spurs showed a real weakness in Chelsea during the midweek game, and with having to travel to Anfield at the end of January. I can only see a victory for Liverpool with a fit again Coutinho as well.

I would highlight Kanté & Costa as key men for Chelsea, but they are also battering rams in a sense, who are likely to have to serve a suspension ban at some point before May. Could prove to be key.

But if Chelsea can get a win at Anfield, the title is heading to Stamford Bridge.

Liverpool img_1184

 It would appear Klopp likes to do things the hard way. An excellent home victory against Manchester City, followed up by giving 2 points away against Sunderland. Klopp is an Anfield favourite already and given time he will take Liverpool to the top of the league, but will it be this season?

Area to Strengthen:

 GK: What is it with Liverpool and Goalkeepers? From Calamity James to Simon Mignolet, they have all been prone to a howler or two. This title race is going to go down to the wire, and Liverpool can’t afford to give points away due to howlers. It’s a shame that Jordan Pickford got injured on Boxing Day, as I would have liked to see Liverpool put a bid in for a young talented English Goalkeeper. Or even a cheeky bid for Kasper Schmeichel wouldn’t be out of the question.

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CB: Klopp has found a solid CB in Joël Matip but troublesome ankle injuries have meant appearances have been few and far over the hectic Christmas period. But like the GK issue, Dejan Lovren has a clanger in him too and hasn’t convinced me of his defensive capabilities yet.

Prediction: 1st

I could be way off with this one, but I think it’s going to happen this year. One of the reasons is that, Liverpool’s final game against a Top 6 team is on the 18th March. That could provide to be pivotal.

It’s also like they are landing a new mega signing with the little Magician they call Philippe Coutinho back on the training pitch.

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Finally it’s Klopp just the best man motivator you could want in a title race?

Tottenham img_1185

 Poch is certainly building something at Spurs, and at White Hart Lane they are unplayable at times. Youth is certainly with Pochettino’s men, as of end of August ‘16 they had the youngest average age of all the Premier League teams. Arguably have the best defence and GK out of all the Top 6 teams.

Area to Strengthen:

ST: I would like to see a variation to Harry Kane. Kane’s a bit of an anomaly as he likes to play leading the line on his own, which has worked well with the continued great form of Dele. Moussa Dembélé at Celtic could be one way to go, I like the look of him and could provide to be a good speedy alternative to Kane.

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Prediction: 4th  

 Feel it might be a season too soon for Poch and his young team, with a tough Jan / Feb period where they have to travel to Manchester City & Liverpool. If they can get 4 points from those two games who knows though.

Manchester City img_1196

 

Not as easy as it looks ehey Pep? The Sky Blues have looked a shadow of the team who looked they were going to run away with the league before November. Pep looks flustered and frustrated on the touchline and his aging team needs some new life injected into it.

Area to Strengthen:

 Defence:

Some of the defensive capabilities of Kolarov, Otamendi etc would have given the likes of Jamie Carragher nightmares. With the consistently injured Kompany edging ever closer to early retirement, it would appear Pep needs to invest and spend big. Wouldn’t be surprised to see Virgil Van Dijk at City next season.

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GK: Bring Hart back. Simple.

CM: Gündogan is an exciting player but another one who’s struggling with injuries, Yaya isn’t the same player as a few seasons ago and lacks the desire to get back and defend these days.

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Prediction: 3rd

City have an opportunity to drag themselves back into this title race with Spurs, Manchester United & Liverpool all having to come to The Ethihad before April. But saying that they then have to travel to London and play Arsenal and Chelsea less than a week apart. I can already hear Pep moaning about that one..

Manchester United img_1199

Stuttering start, but looking a lot more consistent these days. The likes of Pogba & Zlatan are beginning to show why they are held in such high regard by the Old Trafford crowd. Jones & Rojo in the heart of defence isn’t a long-term fix but it seems to be working right now.

Area to Strengthen:

CM: United’s main aim should be finding a long-term replacement for Michael Carrick (35), his defensive displays in midfield have allowed Pogba to shine and take the headlines.

Prediction: 5th

 Jose is building. Next season will be the real test for his Red Devils.

Arsenal: arsenal_fc-svg

What can you say about Arsenal and Wenger which hasn’t already been said? Cazorla and Coquelin out for months with injuries, Sanchez disgruntled. What does Wenger do? Signs a Non – League player of course.

AFC Bournemouth v Arsenal - Premier League

Area to Strengthen:

CM: Xhaka hasn’t worked at all, with consistently clumsy challenges putting Arsenal under unnecessary pressure and Francis Coquelin injured yet again, it’s time to look elsewhere.

 Prediction: 6th

My maths has never been my strong point, but even I know that 6 doesn’t go into 4. Someone’s going to miss out and for me Arsenal are looking the most likely to miss out. Perhaps that will help the board make a decision on Wenger’s future. With visits to Chelsea, Liverpool and a North London derby to come it doesn’t look promising for Arsenal.

So there we have it folks, you might agree you might not. Either way we are in for a treat up until May, let’s see what unfolds.

As always thanks for reading,

Ta Tom

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Liverpool: Playing a Game of He Who Dares

‘We are genuine title contenders’ the same message echoes around Football phone – Ins from Liverpool fans up and down the country after Saturday’s impressive 5-1 victory over Hull City. Of course, we’ve heard it all before especially from full blooded Liverpool fans in the past, much to the delight of opposing fans when it would inenvitably backfire on The Reds.

But with us now 6 games into the 2016/17 season and Liverpool looking irresistible on the eye. Should we be worried that those same Liverpool fans will be telling us ‘I told you so’ come the end of the season?

In one word: Absolutely.

In recent seasons, Liverpool have always threatened and on their day had the potential to beat anyone and look sensational in the process but those days were certainly limited. Those performances were usually reliant on the likes of Suárez, Gerrard or even ‘El Nino’ to produce a moment of magic.

The 2013/14 season under the guidance of Brendon Rodgers, was the last time a Liverpool side have consistently impressed for a period of time like they currently are. But surely that season has, to be taken as an anomaly due to the pure brilliance of Luis Suárez.


Incredibly the Uruguayan amassed 31 goals from just 33 Premier League games. His involvement in setting up countless assists for Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling can’t be forgotten either.

Dependant on where you stand, you could class that 13/14 Liverpool side as a one – man team purely due to the levels Luis managed to achieve.

Fast forward to the present side, this is the first time I can remember for a long time where Liverpool are not only consistently performing well but are doing it as a team and not just through an individual. Of course individuals will always be highlighted for their involvement that is part and parcel of the game we love. But collectively,  Jürgen The German has The Reds firing on all cylinders.


‘The Normal One’ 

The Man, The Myth, The Sports Scientist. Currently the majority of coaches at the elite end of the spectrum in this country, are ex – pro’s looking for ways to stay within the sport they love. That’s great of course, they can offer first hand experience of what it takes to play at the highest level.

Mr. Klopp is different though, not only does he have playing experience in abundance spending the majority of his career at Mainz 05. But he also has the possession of a Sport Science degree. It might not seem like a big deal with the amount of people who go to University in todays world, but I’m not sure you’ll find many other managers with a degree in the Premier League.

The question is will ‘Gegenpress’ (roughly translated as Counter – Press) deliver Premier League glory to Anfield come May next year?

Clearly Klopp has a vision for his players to try and recover the ball as soon as possible after losing it. His philosophy suggests that his players should ‘hunt in packs’ ultimately to regain possession, higher up the pitch which could lead to an attempt on goal.

 ‘WolfPacks’ As it were..

As you can see above the Hull City players were given no time on the ball to pick a pass or begin constructing a plan of attack. Panic! Insures long balls upfield were all Liverpool had to deal with last Saturday afternoon.

Intensity, Intensity & more Intensity! Klopp demands for his players to be proactive and be quick decision makers with the ball to enable a potential chance on goal, but he demands even more intensity in winning the ball back.


Pure intensity from Henderson setting the example in the midfield.

With this in mind, is there any surprise that both Clyne & Milner are No.1 – 2 respectively in the charts with chances created for fullbacks? 13 – Clyne / 12 – Milner. Workrate is key.


The style Klopp has adopted is not an easy one, it’s a demanding hard working role. The whole team need to commit to giving their all for the full 90 minutes. Liverpool have covered the most distance out of all the PL teams as of 21st September.

1.) Liverpool 581.6KM

20.) Manchester United 526.6KM

This could probably be seen as a contributing factor as to why Liverpool are performing so well as a team.

I’m not sure you’ll see many 20+ passes strung together before attempting a shot on goal like Barcelona do on a regular basis, it’s just not Jürgen’s way. Which doesn’t for one second mean Liverpool are any less creative or attacking. Arguably Liverpool are Europe’s most attack minded club in current form.

As we know the Premier League is a ‘non stop 100mph league’, with end to end action – clearly not a bad environment for a high pressing counter attacking system!

Forgetting about the Sport Science degree for a moment, the German is as charismatic as they come and a born leader. Liverpool have been crying out for a manager with Klopp’s passion and enthusiasm for years. Often relying on the cult hero, Stevie G to provide that fire. It’s a shame Gerrard & Klopp didn’t get an opportunity to work together. I have a feeling if they had, Steven would have gotten that PL medal he craves.

 
We all saw the bear hugs and fist pumps with every player after the victory at Stamford Bridge, could you imagine playing for a manager like that? Who fully appreciates your efforts? You can’t tell me it wouldn’t give you goose bumps and want to keep performing to that level. Clearly it’s working for Adam Lallana with 4 goals in his last 8 league games and Henderson back to the form which prompted Liverpool to sign him in the first place.


I may well be getting carried away and about to jump on the ‘Klopp Datenbus’ but things look positive for Liverpool Football Club at the moment. Of course, you have to remember Premier League titles are won in the last month not the first month of the league season.

Finally, there is no doubt that with the way Liverpool are currently playing, injuries will occur with games coming thick and fast especially over the winter time. But Klopp and Liverpool have invested well in the transfer market and can currently boast strength in depth that most in World football wouldn’t mind having.

Even Liverpool supporters would have questioned paying over £30m for Sadio Mané, but he has already proven value for money with his performances this season. With 11 goals from his last 16 attempts across his last 13 PL games for both Saints & Liverpool, you can understand why the Liverpool board were willing to pay such a hefty price tag for the Senegal international.


It remains to be seen how Liverpool will progress come come May next year, but all signs point to it being the beginning of a very successful time for Liverpool FC.

My prediction?

Straight out fight with Manchester City for the title.

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Liverpool Vs Man City 31st December; someone will be celebrating the new year in style.

Cheers for reading folks,

Tom

5 reasons Toffees can be Optimistic

With September just around the corner and the great success of all our Team GB athletes in Rio fresh in the memory. The dismal display from England’s early exit in the European Championships is well and truly in the past, but it can only mean one thing; The Premier League is back.

It’s been an interesting summer transfer window to say the least. Teams have strengthened better than others, whether that is in recruiting new management or securing the services of a big name player.

Although there is a certain element of déjà vu when it comes to the summer window. The endless list of luxurious players Arsenal are linked to. Mahrez, Vardy, Lacazette – I could go on and on.


Manchester City flexing their heavy weight powers with incredible spending powers. £49 million for a Centre Back. Was I watching the same John Stones as everybody else last season?


Sunderland acted with reactions that even Usain Bolt would have been proud of to appoint David Moyes. Once it became apparent that The GodFather himself ‘Big Sam’, had accepted The FA’s decision for him to become the new England manger. Good Luck Sam! As for Sunderland, trust in Moyes and you’ll still be a Premier League club come the end of May.

But there was one Premier League side in particular who in my eyes have not only strengthened wisely in recruiting players, but also by luring one of Europe’s most respected managers to their club. It is of course, the blue side of Merseyside; Everton Football Club.

It’s been twenty two (22) years since Everton FC last won a trophy. But with Ronald Koeman at the helm there is a sense of optimism floating around Goodison Park. Here’s why I think one of English football’s sleeping giants might wake up, and become a force to be reckoned with.

Ronald Koeman


As a Saints fan it pains me to heap praise onto the man, but it’s hard not to.

Very much like his own playing days, Koeman sets his sides out with a defensively minded approach with a splash of ‘Total Football’. Something he would have learnt from his time at Barcelona under the guidance of the late great Johan Cruyff.

Everton under Martinez last season had no structure, often finding themselves opened up with no sign of defensive responsibility. 18 points dropped from winning positions in the league, tells you all you need to know.

I sense that Martinez attempted to take his, attack minded free flowing style from his time at Wigan and apply it at Everton. Only problem is that, Everton weren’t a team fighting for Premier League survival. They needed to consolidate points rather than win at all costs approach. I also suspect that Everton’s squad weren’t physically fit enough for a Premier League season.


It’s not often a new manager in his first competitive post match interview, states that his players are only 70% physically fit instead of a full 100%. Especially when he’s had a full pre- season with the team. It would suggest that Koeman underestimated what condition the squad would return to pre-season in. Raising questions about what state they were in before they left for their break.
It would also suggest that Koeman plans to apply similar tactics to his time at Southampton. With a high work ethic during games, for pressing the opposition when defending or switching to a counter attacking threat.

The following stats would suggest that under Martinez, his players simply weren’t fit enough for the Premier League. Often getting caught out and, having to commit fouls to break up the play. Also if they weren’t fit enough this would suggest lapses in concentration; e.g. Amount of shots conceded.

A few statistics to that last point for you;

   Martinez Vs Koeman

List of Shots conceded (PL pos.)         18th          7th

Fouls committed                                     20th          7th

Interceptions                                           19th           6th

Koeman will certainly tighten things up defensively for Everton and in Idrissa Gueye, he may have found a key player. Gueye in his first competitive debut against Spurs on the opening day of the season proved why the Everton hierarchy triggered his release clause from Aston Villa earlier this month.

As always Gareth Barry will provide experience in abundance for the squad, but what will become of James McCarthy? It would appear he has slipped down the pecking order under Koeman already.


I don’t expect Koeman is completely satisfied with his squad quite yet and wouldn’t be surprised if they dived back into the transfer market before it slams shut.

Ross Barkley

IMO it’s a massive season ahead for Ross, once the bright future of English Football. The next Gazza they said. But with a poor campaign last season, and clearly not trusted by Roy in France this summer. Ross has some work to do.

We all know on his day, he’s got something special in the locker. But he needs to find it in the locker much more consistently.


Part of the downfall for Ross in my opinion, is that very much like Mata at United he doesn’t have a stand out position. Barkley has been played all across the park from one wing to the other and also as a supporting striker. He can’t master a position and make it his own, if he is always being moved around.

It will be interesting to see how the relationship between Koeman & Barkley goes. Koeman doesn’t tend to like his players to dribble with the ball. He’d rather they used it effectively and efficiently towards the opposition’s goal.

Will he allow Ross to do his own thing and just concentrate on what Ross does best? Will he try to mould Ross into a disciplined winger?
All to be decided.

For me, Ross is a player very much like Rooney was in his youth – You unleash him and let him create havoc.

Gone in Sixty Seconds

If Everton are to adopt an almost counter attacking style of football under Koeman, they have the right exponents in speed merchants such as Yannick Bolasie, Lennon & Mirallas to expose the opposition and also defend higher up the pitch.


If you look at the breakdown of Southampton’s goals during Koeman’s tenure it points to one thing, crossing. Saints fans will agree – a large proportion of our goals scored were from crossing positions.

Everton have the likes of Baines and Coleman attacking from both wings, both well capable of producing a moment of magic for the big man, Romelu Lukaku to attack.

I expect Lukaku to score a lot of goals this season as the main target man for Everton but they still need to bring in a support striker – Arouna Kone doesn’t look up to the job.

Joe Hart

Things are going from bad to worse for England’s No.1 at the moment. Unloved by Pep at City and told he can leave the club after 10 years of loyal service. It’s no secret that Everton haven’t found a long term replacement for Tim Howard, who left at the end of last season.

This is a glaring opportunity for Joe to prove Pep wrong. I hope he doesn’t become yet another mercenary happy to sit on the bench at City.


If Joe signs for Everton, he could provide real assurance and experience to the squad alongside his winning mentality.

Defensive Partnership

What a bargain! £12m for Ashley Williams! The Welsh leader was imperious this summer for Wales. It will remain one of the unanswered questions of the world for me. With all their defensive problems why didn’t Mr. Wenger sign him.

I’m guessing Williams & Jagielka will be the first choice pairing with all their PL experience. Ashley is a leader and won’t let being at a new club sherk him, he’ll get stuck right in and become a big player and character for Everton.

Everton conceded 55 goals last season in the league, I’ll put my neck on the line and say they won’t concede more than 40 goals this season. What a big difference defenders who want to defend make.

As always, Ta for reading.

Tom

England’s Nightmare Summer

Where do we start? What’s the best possible way to go about the burning wreckage that is the National Football Team? Everyone will have their own personal opinions on what went wrong in a month to forget that your English (Brexit + Euro embarrassment). But one thing is for sure, just changing the manager will NOT solve it. The problem runs far deeper than that.
As soon as Roy Hodgson resigned, it appeared that all the press immediately switched their attention to who would be his replacement. Almost forgetting about the men who had let him down in France this summer.


Not even a week had passed and pictures of Chris Smalling in Bali were surfacing on the Internet. I know if it was me, and I’d had a stinker of a tournament the last thing I’d want to do is go on holiday – I’d want to get myself on that training pitch as soon as possible. These players will have an opportunity to rebuild their reputations in the seasons to follow, but for Roy this will tarnish a long and relatively successful career in Coaching.

After reading a few segments of James Kerr’s book ‘Legacy’ which discusses life principles that the All Blacks pride themselves on, you begin to understand how far English football has strayed.

One particular example was that after winning a World Cup group game against Wales, two senior members of the team picked up long handled brooms and began sweeping the floor of the changing room. Why? Because no one looks after the All Blacks, the All Blacks look after themselves.

A former player stated ‘it’s a form of personal discipline, not relying on things to be given to you’. The book also goes on to suggest that personal discipline in life will lead to having discipline on the pitch. Helps to create the right environment for a team together instead of a team of individuals, very much like the Welsh camp at these European Championships.

But hang a second, could you really see an England football team of the past 10-15 years sweeping the changing rooms after a game? Could you even see a Premier League team sweep the changing rooms for that matter either?

It’s true, we all know it. Footballers are very lucky humans, everything is given to them on a silver platter. Modern day values simply do not apply to the current elite level footballer. Money makes the world tick, and with the current state of the Premier League and with crazy wages, it doesn’t seem that modern day values will re-appear anytime soon. Shame because it could lead to better performances for the National Team.

The book also focuses on how important it is to have leaders and character in a team, where are the leaders for England? Leaders lead with solid performances game after game, not every now and then (Joe Hart). Think Tony Adams in that Arsenal side, true leader who everyone followed. Personally, in a few years time I hope that Eric Dier can be that man. But at the moment we have no true leaders.


The last time England were successful at a major tournament was 1966, think of the leaders and character in that side (Moore, Charlton x 2, Stiles et al.)


I highlighted it in my last post about The Welsh, and how every player had stood up and taken responsibility at some point during the Championships, supposedly something the late great Gary Speed was responsible for. You need to be united as a team to be successful, a team of individuals will always get found out otherwise just like England were.

On a night which will go down as England’s worst ever competitive result in history. Not only were we beaten 2-1 by Iceland but we were also out done on work rate, desire and sheer commitment.

As an England fan, the very least I expect from players representing my country is desire and work rate. Like most reasonable fans, I can excuse the odd poor touch or sliced shot (Taking liberties Mr. Kane!) But to not give 100% for your nation is inexcusable. You watch some of the athletes representing Team GB in a few weeks time in Rio, they’ll show you commitment.

Tournament Ratings Out of 10:

Hart: (3)

A very generous score, would have been lower but fair play to Joe he’ll always face the media whatever the situation. Two absolute howlers during the tournament from a senior figure of the camp. Expect more pressure from Butland and Forster in the future for the No.1 spot.

Walker: (6)

One of England’s better players of the tournament, provided a good outlet against Russia & Wales but like most didn’t turn up against Iceland.

Smalling: (5)

Although he’s improving, goes to highlight the lack of CB’s available to the national team. Long gone the days of Campbell, Ferdinand et al. I get the feeling with Smalling that he’s one of those players who has always got a mistake in him.

Cahill: (4)

Got found wanting too many times, due to lack of pace. Always been good in the air. One of the older ones in the team now, should have been more of a leader for the team and for Smalling next to him then he was.

Rose: (6)

After looking way off the pace for Sunderland a few seasons ago, he’s managed to turn it around. Excellent for Spurs last season, couple of good performances in the group matches. But once again nothing against Iceland.

Dier: (6) 

Arguably one of England’s players of the tournament (But not sure that’s something you want to be saying too loudly!) Big international stage did not faze him at all, immense against Russia capped with a superb free kick. Did his job against Wales, but froze against Iceland and was replaced at HT. Stick with him, big future ahead – England Captain in the making.


Alli: (4) 

Superb first season for the 20 year old in The Premier League, but 46 games proved too much for the teenager. Himself and his pal Dier will provide England’s midfield for the next 10 years. Like with Dier, stick with Alli he’ll come good.


Wilshere: (5) 

Not the type of player that you can throw on with 20 minutes to go when your losing, he needs to be playing from the start and dictating play IMO. Big season lies ahead for Jack, he needs to decide if he wants to be a Premier League star or a nightclub promoter. Injuries can’t be helped, but he’s type of player who could benefit from some ‘personal discipline’.


Rooney: (5) 

Seemed as if there was no need for all the pre-tournament speculation about Rooney’s position in the team, slipped into the midfield with ease and looked class against Russia. Followed by perhaps his worst performance in an England shirt against Iceland. Will he be on the plane in 2 years time? You’ll have to ask Mystic Meg that one.


Lallana: (5) 

Corrr. Adam sure does like a cheeky ‘Cruyff Turn’ doesn’t he? Shame he can’t play in an attacking three like the late great Cruyff. Played in all 3 group games and never looked comfortable in a wide 4-3-3. Good utility player for England, but we needed a more dynamic direct player in that position.


Sterling: (3) 

Where to start with Raheem. Two years ago at the World Cup, we thought we had a world beater. Since his move to Manchester City he looks bereft of confidence. Subbed 3 times during the competition. Hopefully Pep has the magic cure.


Sturridge: (5) 

Winning goal against Wales and managed not to get injured during the games he played in. (Added bonus) But when playing in an attacking three, he often came far too deep to collect the ball. Needs to be making those attacking runs on goal, not trying to be the supplier.


Kane: (3) 

Arrived in France as a genuine candidate for the Golden Boot after last seasons achievements with Spurs. Never looked fit enough, left his touch and shooting boots in his locker in London. That dismal free kick against Iceland was the cherry on top of a dismal England Championships. Played a lot last season, and in need of a big rest.


Vardy: (6) 

Should have had more game time in general. IMO should have started against Iceland instead of Kane. Got us back into the game against Wales. Has a knack of being in the right place at the right time.


Rashford: (7)

Created more then any other player against Iceland in 4 minutes. Direct running at defenders, changed the game against Wales when he played in a Three up top. Reminds me of a young Michael Owen when charging towards a defence. Big future ahead.


Hodgson: (3) 

Good changes against Wales which worked in the end, but why did it take so long to make the changes? Clearly stayed with the same principals from the Qualifiers where he achieved 10 out of 10 wins. Should have answered to the media after probably England’s worst ever defeat. For €5million a year, England and Hodgson should have done a lot better. The highest paid manager at the Euros.


What Next? 

Of course, the candidates have been shortlisted. In my opinion, would love to see Eddie Howe given a chance. He not only plays the game in the right way but he also had all of his squad playing for one another in a bid to surviving in the Premier League. That’s what we need with England, togetherness. Experience clearly isn’t on Howe’s side compared to the likes of Sam Allardyce or Wenger but that shouldn’t count against him.


‘Together Stronger’ was The Welsh motto during The Euros and it worked, every team member had something to believe in. We need our ‘Together Stronger’ saying, something the whole country can get behind. But more importantly something which binds the players whilst they are in the England set up together.

I tend to believe there is nothing wrong with The FA’s plan in general with the development of the national side, apart from trying to develop more elite level coaches. (Germany & Spain both have 10 times the amount of UEFA coaches as we do as a nation) The Youth teams have all impressed in recent years, which leads me to believe that the culture and the environment itself is the problem with the national side.

Whoever the FA decide to appoint, if they can fix the culture, character & environment of the team, then and only then could England go well at a major tournament.

As always thanks for reading,

Tom

 

United’s New Red Devil: Hit or Miss?

So here we are, Finally. The most discussed story in football over the last 6 months has been put to bed. José Mourinho’s next challenge awaits him, and it’s a big one. Restoring the once well oiled machine that is Manchester United to its former glories.

It’s been no secret that Manchester United have been keeping tabs on José since his departure from Stamford Bridge. Sometimes almost coming  across like a Year 7 school disco, with both parties flirting with the idea without any actually formal offer. But that’s in the past, we now know that José Mourinho has been unveiled as Manchester United’s new manager on a 3 year contract.


This news is sure to bring smiles to United fans all across the globe, and of course why wouldn’t it? It comes with the almost reassurance that Manchester United will be restored to winning ways sooner rather than later. Better believe that, José is a born winner.

It also adds to the list of heavyweight managers now in the Premier League next season, players had better  watch out they won’t be the star attraction anymore! Of course it reignites one of Sports’ best match ups in José Vs Pep, who will rule Manchester? I imagine The Special One has already planned his tactics and revenge for when he takes his United team to Stamford Bridge too.

Of course compared to Van Gaal, Mourinho looks like a gift sent from the God’s, and like previously mentioned he comes with an aura of someone who will deliver trophies. But at what cost?

Manchester United over the years have always prided themselves on playing the ‘Manchester United way’. The list of illustrious players who have graced the treasured turf of Old Trafford is endless; The Busby Babes, The Holy Trinity (Best, Law & Charlton), Class of 92′ and in more recent times Ronaldo and Rooney.


IMO ‘The Manchester United way’ is attack, attack and then attack some more. A relentless force hammering the opponents goal with everything they have until the final whistle. During Sir Alex Ferguson’s tenure he used to pride himself on his teams fighting till the end of games.

One of the contributing factors in Van Gaal’s dismissal was his ‘style of play’, it’s here you are reminded that Mourinho has previous with Van Gaal working as his assistant.


In the past this hasn’t been Mourinho’s style with an all out attack formula, but will he deliver success to Old Trafford even if it takes another route to the summit to the one fans expected? Will fans settle for an compromised style of play in return for more success on the pitch?

Before writing this article I did some research on Mourinho reading some articles, posts and blogs previously written on the man’s tactics, formations and philosophy. Some ideas I agreed with, some I didn’t. Everyone to their own opinions.

But there was one topic which was discussed suggesting that Mourinho would prefer going into games as the ‘under dog’ – ultimately taking the pressure off the team. (His poor record against bottom of the table teams would prove this to be a valid point – can’t have two underdogs in the same match)
How would United fans feel about going into a game knowing that your manager thinks your the underdog? Does it send the right image of an English power house?

I grew up in a time when Manchester United were all dominating in The English Premier League and Europe. Title after Title, Double after Double. I wouldn’t be suprised if they had the Open Bus on retainer from one year to the next. This is the United I remember, the all conquering side who would go head to head with Europe’s elite. Not a side who might get a result as an under dog.


It did of course work for Mourinho, guiding his Inter side past the irresistible Barca and Ancelotti’s attack minded Chelsea en route to winning the Champions League.

It’ll be interesting to see what sort of profile Manchester United have under Mourinho.

Mourinho – The Tactical Genius

Here’s one for you to quiz your mates with in the pub over a cold one.

How many different leagues has Mourinho set a record point tally in? 1? Maybe 2? (Okay, you probably got Porto) But the answer is actually 3! (Portugal, England and Spain)

Which makes the next part so bizarre, if you asked someone on the street what do you think to Mourinho’s playing style? A large proportion would reply with ‘Boring or not exciting’.

How Chelsea went about claiming the title in the 2014/15 season wasn’t boring or uncreative. Winning games 1-0 or 2-1 may have come across dull, it was actually incredibly clever tactics from The Special One.

Okay, bold statement. Let me explain why IMO the tactics implemented were canny and clever. For the next paragraph or so I’m going to need you to remember one buzz word (god dammit, I love a good buzz word!) The Buzz word is -MED (Minimum Effective Dose). This means the minimum someone or a team has to do, and still get the desired outcome.

Football seasons are a long arduous slog, the quote ‘It’s a marathon not a sprint’ springs to mind. Mourinho recognised that if his side played to their full potential from the start of games, they would often have a lead by half time. Often during the 2014/15 season, Chelsea by 50-60 minutes into a game would switch into a training ground routine. Thus saving their legs in preparation for the next game, whilst the opposition would run themselves into the ground chasing down Chelsea’s keep ball. Mourinho always thinking ahead to the next opponent. Classic MED signs.


United fans in the past have been spoiled with excitement until the final whistle blows, how will they like a more conservative and tactical Manchester United side?

In terms of Mourinho’s preferred formation at United, it’s hard to look past 4-2-3-1. Everyone knows he loves a 4-2-3-1 he’s used it both times at Chelsea, with Madrid and at times with Inter too. IMO it’s a great tactic and it got used repeatedly on FM whilst growing up (granted with a lot less success than Mourinho has had with it!)


It isn’t just a basic 4-2-3-1 with Mourinho though, going forward in attack it develops into almost a 4-3-3 perfect for those fast counter attacking moments whilst still allowing a solid foundation at the back.

Remember those days of Duff and Robben terrorising defenders on the break..?

Times are changing at Manchester United.

Welcome Back José.
Thanks for reading,

Tom

Time for Change: The Arsenal Verdict

Here we are once again, a season which promised so much and has delivered so little for Arsenal fans is upon us. I find myself with a sense of deja vu. It seems every season they are limping over the line to gain 4th place in the league after looking so promising at the turn of the year.wenger_arsenal_ap

The emergence of their bitterest rivals down the road as a genuine title challenger, should provide enough ammunition that something needs to change at the Emirates!

The Four Candidates:

Diego Simeone – The Passionate One

simeone-600x337It takes someone special to turn La Liga’s 2 horse race into a 3 horse race, but that’s exactly what Simeone is, Special. He’s passionate, he bonds with all his players. Turning Athletico into one of Europe’s most dangerous clubs on the counter attack. Arsenal fans could expect to see George Graham type discipline back at the club with Simeone in charge. With Simeone in charge you don’t know what to expect it’s almost the equivalent of Mario Balotelli. It could provide to be a masterstroke, or he could explode into a puddle of hot lava on the sidelines. If available i’d get him in a heart beat.

Ronald Koeman – The Sensible Option

A very safe pair of hands. Quietly going about his business on the South Coast, picking upronald_koeman exactly where Pochettino left off. Learnt from the best from the late great Johan Cruyff, and likes to see good football played on the deck. He’d also take on Wenger’s youth philosophy, and still promote youth players. IMO beginning to get restless at Southampton, judging by some interviews hinting he couldn’t take Southampton any further with their resources.

Joachim Löw – The Wildcard

World Cup winning manager – Doesn’t look bad on the CV does it?

Been in charge of the German National Team for 10 years now. Depending on how Joachim-LöwGermany get on at this summers Euro’s he could be wanting a way out. Yet to really prove himself at club level with only short stays at all his previous clubs before he took to international management. Also likes to give Youth a chance and could help turn Arsenal into a slick well run machine like the German side which thrashed Brazil at 2014 World Cup. He’s also one of the most stylish managers around.

Laurent Blanc – The Frenchman

Arsenal have been lead by Arsène Wenger for almost 20 years now. So it would be foolish psg-paris-saint-germain-laurent-blanc_3388739to not include a suitable candidate lined up to take over like SAF did with David Moyes. The previous French National manager and current PSG man could do a very good job at Arsenal. Could provide a bit of a shock coming to a league with actual competitiveness unlike Ligue 1 where PSG could miss the first 10 games and still win the league. Blanc could find himself without a job soon too with an early Champions League exit to Man City and Mourinho lurking in the shadows.

 

Thanks for reading,

Tom

 

 

 

 

 

5 A-side Team of the Season

With the season drawing to an exhilarating close, and with Leicester City and Spurs taking the title race down to the wire. I take a look at the players who I’d want playing in my team.

(1-1-2-1)  IMG_2989
Lloris (Tottenham)

Hugo-Lloris

The Spurs shotstopper has certainly had a season to remember. Tottenham have the best
defensive record in the league, with the consistent form of their captain playing a major role. Bodes well for France with Euro 2016 on the horizon.

 

N-Golo-Kante-608036

Kanté (Leicester City)

The 25 year old frenchman tops the charts for tackles and interceptions with an eye for passing too. Calm head on young shoulders, has been vital to Leicester’s title challenge. Has broken up attacking threats from opponents all season long.

Payet (West Ham United)  Payet

Remember watching West Ham Vs Man City at the back end of Jan on Sky. Payet was unbelievable in that game, he embarrassed a majority of the Manchester City  midfield with his skill and trickery. It’s a pity he got injured during the season. But when he has played he’s gone from strength to strength. West Ham will hope they can hang on to him in the summer. Boy his free kicks aren’t half bad either.

SOCCER-626598Mahrez (Leicester City)

Arguably the star player of the season, Mahrez has enthralled the King Power Stadium with some stellar performances with his mazy runs, assists & goals. Leicester will be hoping he signs a contract extension ASAP. Otherwise Europe’s elite will be sniffing around.

 

Harry Kane (Tottenham)Tottenham's Harry Kane

Is he the best finisher in the league? Statistics would suggest he is after bagging his 22nd league goal against Liverpool on Saturday evening. I’d still put him behind Augero, but he’s definitely England’s best forward at this moment in time. Instinctive finisher

 

Subs:

Morgan (Leicester City)

This time last season, Leicester City were bottom of the league. Now they look odds on to do the unthinkable. The 1-0 win over Saints whereMorgan scored too, helped to establish a 7 point gap between themselves and Spurs. Morgan has been ever-present this season in the league for Leicester. A rock at the back and is crucial to Leicester’s success.

Dier (Tottenham)

For me, he has to start for England in the summer. An inspired decision from Pochettino to move Dier from CB to Defensive Mid. Looks at ease with the ball at his feet.

Alli (Tottenham)

Surely another candidate to go straight into Roy’s starting XI in the summer after his performances for Spurs this season. Some question his temperament, but he is an unbelievable prospect.

 

How would your team of the season look?

Thanks for reading,

Tom