A Super Sunday… Finally!

We spend all Summer waiting for that 1st competitive game and longing for those Sunday’s that provide quality football viewing.

Finally this weekend, after having to endure some the painful watches of Huddersfiled v Newcastle and Burnley v Palace we finally have a Sunday worthy of its Sky given “Super” title. The TV cameras will be placed at Stamford Bridge for Chelsea v Arsenal and Old Trafford for Man Utd v Everton with each game, in our opinion having potentially damning outcomes for some.

We’ll start with the 13:30 kick off, a London Derby, the Champions vs a club divided. Chelsea take on Arsenal in a week that has seen one club return to the Champions League and another taste life without. Arsenal couldn’t have wished for a tougher fixture at this time. After an opening day blip Conte’s men have reminded us all why they cannot be counted out of defending their title.

The Blues have moved swiftly to replace the sulking Costa with a deadly Alvaro Morata and with Hazard coming back to fitness they are back to last season’s title winning best. Kante has picked up where he left off and despite some negative transfer window comments, we believe that Chelsea have bought well and are an ever improving team under Conte.

Head up to North London and you’ll find an Arsenal in more disarray than ever, “Wenger in” has beaten “Wenger out” for at least the next 2 seasons and the Emirates takeover of Koln fans midweek shows just how uninterested their fans are. This could be the Gunners 3rd defeat at a stadium where they have lost the last 5 games, conceding 15 and scoring just 2.

Wenger needs to start with Lacazette and put some faith in his major Summer purchase. The rest of the side will remain as it has been for the last few seasons…the same! Arsenal are capable of a performance on their day, but for us that will not be Sunday and a victory over Bournemouth merely papered over the cracks for a week after defeats by Liverpool and Stoke.

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Up in the North West at 16:00, big spending Everton need a performance at the Theatre of Dreams after back-to-back 3-0 defeats to Spurs at Atalanta. The results nor performances will sit well with a board who have backed Ronald Koeman like no other Goodison boss before him. One key area they lack is up top having cashed in on Romelu Lukaku.  Whilst he may miss the occasional chance, the big Belgian is on fire for his new club. Don’t bet against a comfortable Man Utd victory with Lukaku bagging a couple against a Toffees side who are still gelling, but make no mistake they need to gel quickly to avoid an unthinkable mid to lower table finish with 10’s of millions spent.

Jose is having his 2nd season syndrome come to prominence again and you start to feel that Man Utd are becoming a force once again. Koeman’s 2nd season syndrome could end before May 2018 if he cannot find a winning formula with his purchases. A £45m purchase of Gylfi Sigurdsson will not fly under any football fans’ radar, build the team around the Icelandic international and show some signs of improvement or start flirting with European clubs before the P45 is delivered.

On a separate note…The Old Trafford return of Rooney will obviously be poignant. Love or loathe him, he deserves a rousing reception from the Stretford End for all that he did for them over the years.

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After Man City’s most recent demolition of a PL side, it’s over to their main title contenders to turn in equally impressive results.

Let’s hope that this particular “Super Sunday” can live up to our expectations, Happy viewing!

Morata and Lacazette image sourced from; www.skysports.com
Lukaku and Rooney image sourced from; www.skysports.com

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Burnley vs. Palace – The end for De Boer?

You only have to look back to August 2016 to see that outgoing Ajax gaffer Frank De Boer was one of the most wanted men in Europe, look to the present day and immediately to Sunday 10th September 2017 and here he is staring the sack right in the face at Burnley’s Turf Moor.

Three defeats from his first three matches has seen him on the verge of being branded one of the Premier Leagues biggest managerial flops in living memory, certainly not the outcome he or Selhurst Chairman Steve Parish had in mind when he was announced just a few weeks ago.

Fresh from an ill-fated stint in charge during the recent re-branding of Inter Milan he was considered a coup for Palace, rightly so.

A glorious playing career covering some of Europe’s top clubs at the time including spells at Barca, Galatasary and Rangers (the Champions League years and not the league visits to Peterhead).

He was seemingly destined for management and was given the opportunity at his boyhood club Ajax, where 4 titles in 6 seasons propelled him into the gaze of the continent.

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It’s so bad in London that it would appear anything other than a win at Burnley this weekend will see the former defender searching for yet another job but with an even further tarnished reputation.

The players are struggling to adapt to his favoured 3-5-2 system and we can hardly be surprised. For us Palace have to be one of the strangest squads in the division. Players that on their day can be dazzling but most weeks can be frustrating…That’s right Wilfred Zaha and Jason Puncheon we’re talking about you!

Add into the starting XI a post-Newcastle Cabaye, Multi-million pound left footers of Schlupp and Van Aanholt with a backup striker of Connor Wickham and you have an expensively assembled squad of confused proportions.

The Summer transfer window reflects poorly for Palace also, a couple of centre halves and fringe loans recruited from Chelsea and Man Utd would have hardly inspired the dressing room or fans, never mind a new gaffer.

Upon his arrival he proclaimed “I have my own type of coaching and style of playing. We want to be dominant when we can, but also dominate when we don’t have the ball.” Sorry Frank but you’re at the wrong club for that so perhaps this is all just wrong place, wrong time.

Should he be given more time? For us the simple answer is yes, without a shadow of a doubt. Crystal Palace are a club that are desperate to retain their status year on year and if they wish to just simply do that then fine. Get on the blower to Big Sam and give him anything he wants to come back. If you wish to provide your fans with a bit of pride season on season then keep a flourishing manager of the calibre you currently have and look to ship out the players who look to be downing tools because they cannot adapt to a new way of thinking. Guess what lads? You are highly paid professionals and if the gaffer asks you to play wing back and keep the ball on the deck then do so or get yourself up to West Brom with Tony Pulis (maybe we’re being harsh on the baggies but you get the point.)

After Swansea beat his side 2-0, De Boer complained his players lacked courage. “We have to show some balls,” they’ll certainly have to do that at Burnley. As we are all aware Turf Moor is a challenging away ground and with a Sean Dyche team that have made a promising start to the season, it’s not high on the list of places to go for a “must win” and in front of the TV cameras will add extra pressure.

With him being the Eagles eighth manager and just seven years…Is it Crystal clear that the Dutchman will be going?

De Boer image sourced from www.goal.com

Sunderland AFC

Finally down and out, The 2016/17 season has proved one step too far for Sunderland AFC. Having flirted with relegation for the previous four seasons they have finally succumbed to the dreaded drop.

The parachute payments will pale into insignificance once the fixtures are released in a few weeks’ time for the season ahead. The additional 8 games a season, more midweek fixtures and trips to Burton Albion and Bristol City will hit home hard at The Stadium of Light.

Ever since owner Ellis Short arrived in the North East in 2008 it’s been bad decision after bad decision. 7 permanent managers have come and gone with Short currently on his 9th in David Moyes, someone whom he has made no secret of his admiration for… Moyes has finally been the man to oversee a long overdue relegation.

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Calamitous spells in charge from the likes of Ricky Sbragia and Paulo Di Canio have not aided the former Man Utd Manager’s cause but this was not the right job for him to step into, he was defeated and downbeat from the off. In fact in the near 10 years in which the club has been under American ownership, the highest win % of any of the gaffers has been a miserable 35.2% under Martin O’Neill, The Irishman lost equally as many games as he won.

So what now for The Mackems?

Just have a look at their squad, terrible and without serious overhaul they could be destined for League One sooner than a Premier League return.

We’ll start with the seemingly obvious, Defoe will go (on a free!! Who’s idea was it to insert that clause into his contract?!) and Pickford will surely look to add to a rapidly increasing reputation with a move to a club in the top flight.

The Rest?

A dressing room full of failed potential and players long past their sell by dates. Jack Rodwell, Darren Gibson, Joleon Lescott, Victor Anichebe, Steven Pienaar, John O’Shea and Seb Larsson are all part of one of the most poorly assembled squads in recent Premier League history.

The Manager?

There are already chants of “Moyes out” from the stands and with an ever diminishing reputation you have to wonder what is going through the Scotsman’s mind as he enters the summer break. He has Championship experience but that was a long time ago, the league has since changed and Sunderland will hardly be favourites for the division with the likes of Aston Villa, Hull and Fulham looking a lot better placed for promotion.

The Boardroom?

You only have to look at recent seasons and you’ll see that there will be very little in terms of funds made available. The Black Cats generally spend what they recoup but with years of the insane Premier League money behind them it’s hard to fathom just where the £100’s Millions are going year on year, or is it?

Sunderland are reported to have the 14th highest wage bill in EUROPE! What?!? One thing is for sure and that is that they have very little in terms of saleable assets to provide funds to buy the relevant personnel that will understand the rough and tumble of championship football.

The side from Wearside need a complete club overhaul to have any chance of returning to the Premier League anytime in the near future. In their current state you have to envisage a mid-table Championship season is the best they can hope for.

We all know the North East of England is a hot bed for football, the fans are extremely passionate with generally very little return from their heroes on the pitch. Big rivals Newcastle have been able to bounce straight back but unless Rafa’s boys implode once more and find themselves in a relegation battle, we wouldn’t expect to have any fierce local derbies in the coming seasons Sunderland fans.

They deserve better than what they’ve recently had to endure.

Sunderland-fans

David Moyes image sourced from; www.skysports.com
Sunderland fans image sourced from; www.chroniclelive.co.uk

Premier League – European Nights Proving too much?

It feels like it’s been a lot longer than 4 years since Chelsea lifted the Europa League, an English sides’ last triumph in any European competition. Whilst Man Utd have a reasonable opportunity to win the same competition this season, not many could have predicted such a sharp decline in the performance of the teams from the richest league in the world under the floodlights across the continent.

Allow me to explain…

Since the 1999-2000 season there have been 64 finalists spread over The Champions League & Europa League, the top representatives by country of origin: –

  • Spain – 23
  • Portugal – 7
  • England – 14
  • Italy – 6
  • Germany – 8

Are we accepting that a little over 20% of finalists being from the “money machine” that is the Barclays Premier league is acceptable?

Of the 14 English clubs who have made it to the various finals, only 4 have prevailed, Sevilla alone have won on 5 occasions and they would not usually be mentioned in the same breath.

It is also worth remembering that even the much maligned Scottish Premiership has provided 2 finalists within the same period (Celtic 2003 & Rangers 2008).

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The afore mentioned Man Utd could break the recent trend this season and lift the Europa League, however loses to Feyenoord and Fenerbache accompanied by drab draws against FC Rostov and Anderlecht would hardly see them as worthy winners.

In fact, this season has seen English Premier League sides (Spurs & Man Utd) face opposition from Belgian First Division A (KAA Gent & Anderlecht) over four legs and only produce a solitary England win…A 2-1 extra time win.

Other such failings in recent seasons have included:-

  • FA Cup winners Wigan prop up their Europa League group
  • Hull City defeated by Lokeren in the qualifying rounds
  • Everton take 5 from Dynamo Kiev
  • Southampton 1-2 Midtylland
  • Liverpool losing out to Basel in 2014-15
  • Man Utd slipping to 3rd in a group of Wolfburg, PSV & CSKA
  • And who can ignore Arsenal’s recent meetings with Bayern…

Football is football and that’s why we love the game and yes the odd surprise defeat can occur, however these are over 2 legs, or in group stages containing multiple games, EPL sides should NOT be crashing out under these circumstances.

Are Stoke better than Schalke, could Bournemouth batter Bordeaux or would we see Everton ease past Espanyol?

I think the honest answer has to be a resounding no to all of the above.

The self-proclaimed “best league in the world” is being outshone by sides from divisions on which they look down on as being not worthy of sharing their pitches.

The EPL and its member clubs need to raise the bar to a whole new level to re-assert itself as a provider of dominant club sides when competing in European competitions or risk falling further behind.

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Tottenham vs Gent image sourced from; www.fourfourtwo.com
Champion’s League group stage image sourced from; www.goal.com

Ranieri – Proof that Success Means Little

Cast your minds back to May 7th 2016, A Saturday evening under the glare of the lights at a wet and windy King Power Stadium. Everton were the visitors but in all truth, they were only there to make up the numbers.

It was the conclusion of arguably one of Britain’s greatest ever sporting stories, Leicester City were presented with the Barclays Premier League Trophy. The well documented 5000/1 shots had literally defied all of the odds.

Fast forward 9 months to February 2017 and just over 2 weeks after a statement was released by the board announcing their “unwavering support” they decided to tell Mr Ranieri that his time in charge was over.

A disappointing and cut throat act from the Thai owners? Undoubtedly yes. A surprise given the football world we live in? Sadly not.

Leicester City’s title defence has been a horrific one. Currently hovering around the drop zone, bang out of form (Liverpool result aside) and The SkyBet Championship starting to look like a distinct possibility for next season.

Champions League nights and trips to Seville could be replaced with 46 matches of pure fight. One saving grace is that they have been there, done that and have the winners t-shirts already.

Of course they deserved to bask in their glory but this title party has felt never ending. Trips all over the world, magazine deals, new cars and bumper new contracts have 100% drawn focus from the bread and butter of playing football!

The Italian was of course not without blame in this season dismal title defence. Ranieri was given the nickname “Tinkerman” from his Chelsea days due to the amount of changes he’d make from game to game, this season was different from those past Stamford Bridge days.

He stuck and kept faith, perhaps blindly with the same players that had delivered the unlikeliest of successes last May. Had he taken a step back from all of the commotion, locked himself in a dark room and thought about nothing other than football he may have made difficult yet necessary decisions.

His loyalty to Vardy, Mahrez and Morgan in particular has proved to be detrimental in his demise.

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The side from the East Midlands made a similar error in judgement to past champions, they didn’t strengthen adequately for what was sure to be a different season, when your champions the only way to go is down. Ranieri should have been beating down the door of the CEO’s office demanding quality additions to provide squad depth.

They were all linked with moves…Arsenal’s and Barcelona’s were mentioned but ultimately they lost the one player they simply couldn’t afford to lose. N’Golo Kante should have been given the freedom of the city in an attempt to get the French international to stick around for another year or two.

He’s gone to Chelsea and just look at them now, we also believe that Kante will sweep the boards at this season’s end of campaign awards.

The sacking has been confirmed and the players, club and the fans will now start the moving on process.

Whatever happens over the next few weeks – be it relegation or survival, the memories and emotions of the past 12 months will outweigh anything that most football fans will ever feel…Claudio Ranieri you leave Leicester City as a champion!

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Jamie Vardy image sourced from; www.skysports.com
Claudio Ranieri image sourced from; www.dailyexpress.co.uk

Wayne Rooney – Time for Fan Reflection

Poor old Wayne Rooney, he appears to be taking the brunt of everyone’s frustrations and anger at the moment:-

  • Man Utd’s stuttering start to the season = Wayne Rooney
  • Paul Pogba’s poor form = Wayne Rooney
  • England failing at the Euros = Wayne Rooney
  • Current England failings = Wayne Rooney
  • Global Warming = Wayne Rooney

Obviously we kid with the last one but we’re sure “Wazza” wouldn’t be surprised to be questioned about it in an upcoming press conference if they needed someone to blame.

The fact of the matter is simple…Wayne Rooney is currently out of form and quite rightly has been taken out of the starting 11 by responsible managers for club and country. This is something which can and does happen to most players throughout their careers, but most other footballers do not have the numbers to back up their careers like the England captain.

Just have a look at his record:-

Club Season Apps Goals
Everton 2002 – 03 37 8
  2003 – 04 40 9
Man Utd 2004 – 05 43 17
  2005 – 06 48 19
  2006 -07 55 23
  2007 – 08 43 18
  2008 – 09 49 20
  2009 – 10 44 34
  2010 – 11 40 16
  2011 – 12 43 34
  2012 – 13 37 16
  2013 – 14 40 19
  2014 – 15 37 14
  2015 – 16 41 15
England 2003 – Present 118 53
Total 715 315

14 trophies lifted and multiple “Player of the Year” awards to also add to his medal collection.

Rooney doesn’t complete the team sheet at Old Trafford or Wembley, the Manager does. Not just one manager either. A total of 11 of managers (4 at club level, with Moyes x 2 and 7 at International) have been quick enough to write his name down and hand it to the officials on hundreds of occasions. Rooney goes out on the pitch as instructed to, just as he has sat on the bench in recent weeks like the model pro he has matured into.

He is about to turn 31 but he has plenty left to offer both on and off the pitch, yes there is work to do on his part. A young man who has been in the spotlight ever since bending a beauty past David Seaman way back in 2002 deserves to be cut a bit of slack.

A man who has won everything at club level as well as becoming  England’s most capped outfield player and top goal-scorer, Wayne Rooney is a player that England and Man Utd fans may never see again in their lifetimes.

It’s time to support the man who you have depended on for so many years, acknowledging just how good he has been along the way.

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Wayne Rooney image sourced from; www.dailyexpress.co.uk

Liverpool FC – Title Contenders?

They came agonisingly close a couple of seasons ago but by allowing mistakes in their remaining games they opened the door for Man City to sneak in and steal what look to be deservedly theirs.

Gerrard’s now infamous slip and 10 unbelievable minutes at Selhurst Park ultimately cost the Merseyside club their 1st league triumph since 89-90. It’s been far too long for a club the stature of Liverpool to go without winning the highest domestic honour but this season they look capable of ending decades of hurt.

The start they have made has been impressive…16 points from 21. Away wins at Arsenal and Chelsea make statements throughout a season but to achieve both so early lays down an impressive marker. Throw in a hammering of Champions Leicester, a reasonable point at Spurs and it almost makes you forget about the early Burnley ambush at Turf Moor. Whilst most sides will drop unexpected points, it is these “Burnley-type” results that Klopp will be keen to eradicate, something which looked to be lesson learnt at Swansea recently.

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Last Saturday the animated German Manager celebrated his 1st year at Anfield, he can look back on a part-season that included appearances in the Capital One and Europa League Finals after inheriting a side from Brendan Rodgers and can claim he overachieved. Now with a summer transfer window under his belt it is clear that he has identified players and strengthened from back to front…

Loris Karius is over his early injury and is challenging Mignolet for the No1 jersey with 39 year old Manninger providing the experienced back up.

The shrewd acquisitions of Matip and Klavan have added depth and steel to the heart of the defence, you have to say that they are desperate for an out and out left back though. Milner has more than proved his worth by filing in, but a naturally left footed player would add additional balance to the starting XI. Hull City and Scotland’s Andy Robertson (recently linked) could be the answer for a reasonable price.

Midfield has seen the arrival of Gigi Wijnaldum from Newcastle for an inflated fee but he seems to be more at home on Merseyside than he did further north where he suffered relegation. The emergence of Kevin Stewart is a pleasing sight and the Kop are finally seeing the best of Lallana. Jordan Henderson is taking the captaincy role for both club and country, just like his idolised predecessor.

Mane, Coutinho and Firmino are a frightening trio for any defence to deal with and the fact that they are currently keeping a fit Daniel Sturridge out of the team is the highest praise they can be given.

An overall transfer spend of £62m was offset by recouping around £75m with the departures of Benteke, Ibe, Allen and perhaps most importantly Mario Balotelli. The fees and the times were right for these players to move on.

Just like the squad the Main Stand has been addressed. A new 3rd tier increases the capacity and takes the ground to a new level.  More supporters = more noise (hopefully positive). Just like Parkhead it is something special hearing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” bellowing out just before kick-off.

No European football provides a massive advantage, no long midweek journeys leading to disrupted weekend kick off times. The Champions League is where club belongS, however they should be using the dramatically reduced schedule of games to steal a march on the rest of the Premier League.

Speaking of domestic opponents…Next up are old rivals Manchester United on Monday night, a win would take them 6 points clear of Mourinho’s men. A game which needs no introduction and often meets expectations, if Klopp’s XI can shake off the rustiness of the international break then they should be aiming to make a further statement of intent in front of the watching World.

The Manager is in place, the squad is well-balanced, the books are showing positive numbers and the ground has finally gone under some re-development. It’s an exciting time if you’re a Liverpool fan, a time where it must be difficult to stop envisaging another prolonged period of success on the horizon.

The joint top scorers in the division still have work to do but from what they have shown already this season there is no reason why they can’t hold aloft that much sought after and long overdue trophy come May, football needs a serially competitive Liverpool side and it looks like we may just have one again.

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Liverpool vs Chelsea image sourced from www.football365.com
Liverpool fans image sourced from www.skysports.com

Paul Pogba – Is he Worth it?

It took what felt like an eternity, but in the early hours of Tuesday 9th of August the new world record fee had been paid for Paul Labile Pogba.

Man Utd have signed a world class player and to seal the deal you need to pay a world class fee.

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A man who was let go by the Old Trafford side just 4 years ago for a reported £800K after Sir Alex took a dislike to demands being asked by Pogba’s representatives.

£89,000,000 was sent between accounts in Manchester and Turin for the French international midfielder with one main question being asked post completion…Is he worth it?

The answer is a simple yes and allow us to explain why.

Since leaving Manchester and making his debut for Juve in Sept 2012, he has been their stand out performer from the middle of the park. His stats for his 4 seasons in Italy make for impressive reading:-

Season Apps Goals Honours
2012-13 37 5 Serie A Title
2013-14 51 9 Serie A Title / Supercoppa Italiana
2014-15 41 10 Serie A Title / Coppa Italia
2015-16 49 10 Serie A Title / Coppa Italia / Supercoppa Italiana

Add into this an unexpected Champions League final appearance in 2015 and 8 high ranking individual accolades and you have a serial winner.

The Premier League is on course to break the £1billion barrier for the 1st time in the current window and with that, it’s fair to say that we live in a world of scary and shocking transfer fees. Take a look at some of the players and attached fees, some of these make the Pogba deal look more than shrewd.

  • Yannik Bolasie £25m – An inconsistent winger
  • James Chester £9m – A defender deemed surplus at West Brom
  • Gonzalo Higuain £75m – A goal scorer but absent in the biggest games
  • All Chinese Super League inbound transfers – Pure madness!

Pogba has matured into a genuine world class footballer and is now at one of the biggest clubs in the world once again. His name will drive up shirt sales, attract new sponsors, gain additional fans and raise the clubs’ profile even further.

£89m will prove a drop in the ocean spread over the next 7-10 years that you’d expect him to wear the red of Manchester. Also combine the deal with the free transfer of Zlatan and you have an enviable summer window.

Paul Pogba is worth every penny paid by Man Utd!

Burnley Manager Sean Dyche gave a frank and honest interview on Talk Sport recently, something we would encourage all to find and listen to. In the midst of Dyche detailing the media fascinations with foreign coaches and training methods he spoke about transfer fees. Burnley cut their cloth accordingly and simply cannot over spend. He stated that an unnamed club quoted a fee for a player but were open enough to tell the Turf Moor outfit to add £2m to the price, purely because they were a Premier League side. Now you could call this jealousy, but let’s be honest it’s just chairmen out to grab a share of the well documented riches. If top tier clubs get top tier money then you’re going to have to expect to pay inflated prices.

Ultimately no footballer is worth £89m and realistically no footballer is worth £20m but the TV money controls the game at the highest level .

Expect the record Pogba fee to stand for a time but certainly not for a long one. You have to wonder who is going to be the £100m player in the not too distant future.

2016 / 17 – Pre-Season Tips

With the start of a new league season just days away, it’s that time of the year where we’ll all be marking our coupons with the expectation of collecting a fortune come May.  Hopefully with a couple of doubles, trebles or accumulators and if you’re brave enough a Leicester City style 5000/1 price may be in reach.

Whilst we acknowledge there are still players to be transferred in or out and a LOT of money to be spent or squandered before the transfer window slams shut on 31st August, it is time to name our tips for titles, promotion and relegation for leagues North and South of the border.

We have opted to name promotion only in the English leagues and remove from the Scottish leagues as realistically who can predict the play offs!

Anyway here goes…

Premier League

Title – Man Utd                    Relegation – Hull City, Burnley & Sunderland

Mourinho’s Man Utd v Guardiola’s Man City is the title shootout for us this season. Arsenal and Chelsea have yet to meaningfully strengthen, Spurs won’t be as close again and Leicester’s win was a one off. Jose has addressed key areas were the reds were lacking and with Zlatan’s magic arriving at Old Trafford we think they’ll come out on top in the North West and in England.

It was difficult to choose a complete three for relegation this season, Hull were the only obvious choice with no manager and no money spent so far. We think Burnley will have tremendous fight under Sean Dyche but will more than likely suffer relegation with a couple of games remaining.

Third and final side in our list is Moyes’ Sunderland, we don’t feel they are good enough to stay up and that the ex-Everton manager will further damage the reputation he built at Goodison Park.

Guardiola-Mourinho-Image

Championship

Title – Newcastle Utd           Promotion – Norwich          
Relegation – Burton, Rotherham & Reading

Providing Rafa Benitez sticks around, it is extremely difficult to make an argument for any other side to win the Championship this season. They have recruited well with Gayle, Ritchie and Hanley coming in and with 52,000 cheering them on every week it should be a comfortable march to the title. Look out for Scotland International, Ritchie, for Player of the year at this level too.

We also assume an immediate return to the top flight for Alex Neil’s Norwich. The Canaries have stuck with the Scotsman who guided them to promotion and subsequent relegation, which is good to see in this day and age. He has held the squad together but could do with adding a goal scorer to ensure an easier few months.

The Championship is one of the most challenging leagues in Europe and there will be numerous teams battling it out at the bottom for survival. Our picks based on current views are Burton Albion, Rotherham and Reading.  Having watched Burton stumble towards promotion without Hasselbaink at the helm, the step up will be too much for them. Stubbs has replaced Warnock at Rotherham but his inability to guide Hibs to promotion in Scotland does not stand him in good stead for his new challenge. Reading have recruited former Man Utd man Jaap Stam as manager so you’d expect them to be watertight at the back. They just haven’t threatened in the past few seasons and perhaps they are going to be involved at the wrong end of the table this time around.

League One

Title – Charlton         Promotion – MK Dons        
Relegation – Oldham, Fleetwood & AFC Wimbledon

Continuing the Championship theme of teams bouncing straight back from relegation with Charlton Athletic & MK Dons. Last season many managers played their part in the Addicks drop, but with Russell Slade in the hot seat they will be one of the better teams in League Two. MK Dons have held onto Karl Robinson and that could be their best bit of business throughout the summer. Both sides have to be considered as Championship-level teams and will be striving to return at the 1st attempt.

Whilst we’ll all be looking forward to the hotly anticipated meetings of Wimbledon’s old and new we feel that the new boys will make a swift return to League Two. It’s been a fairytale journey for them getting to this level in double quick time, but one step too far with current with current set up in place for us. We anticipate they will be joined in the drop by serial lower half finishers Oldham and the lads from Fleetwood Town.

League Two

Title – Portsmouth          Promotion – Plymouth          
Relegation – Newport County & Morecambe

It’s about time Portsmouth started to make their way back up the leagues, the fans have saved the club at a play-off defeat last year showed they are on their way back. We fancy Paul Cook to lead them to the trophy at the 2nd time of asking.

Another team still hurting from a play-off defeat last season is Plymouth Argyle, a massive 14 players have been brought in to aid the promotion push and with former Premier League striker David Goodwillie leading the line, it’s promotion for the Pilgrims.

Dropping out of the Football League must be the most difficult thing to stomach as a fan and we’re sorry to say we see this looming for all Newport and Morecambe fans in May 2017.

Portsmouth-Plymouth-Image

Scottish Premiership

Title – Celtic                    Relegation – Hamilton

Scott Brown stoked the Old Firm fire this week by claiming that Aberdeen and not Rangers would be Celtic’s biggest challengers…We have to agree. But no matter how close Aberdeen get the trophy will once again end up in the cabinet at Parkhead. Brendan Rodgers will be looking to see out his tenure with the Hoops gathering as much silverware as possible en-route to gaining a top job back down south.

The time has come for Hamilton to gracefully depart the top flight in Scotland, year after year they serve up bottom half finishes and they look to be by far the poorest team in the division heading into the start of the campaign. We see relegation and a managerial change along the way. Kilmarnock and Dundee could also be contenders with Killie chief Lee Clark’s future looking uncertain, while at Dens – the loss of 25 Hemming’s goals would hurt any SPL side.

Scottish Championship

Title – Dundee United                    Relegation – Ayr United

Recently relegated Dundee United have swept the club clean of under-performing managers and players in the close season. Ray McKinnon now in charge and has made some shrewd additions in key areas of the park. We tip the Tangerines to pip Neil Lennon’s Hibs in what will be a closely contested title race. We’ll even throw in another cheeky prediction of Simon Murray for the league’s top scorer!

Having been promoted via the ever-so-complicated Scottish play-off system, Ayr United find themselves in a strong 2nd tier just like many others in recent seasons. Unfortunately we see them propping up the table come May.

Dundee-United-Image

Scottish League One

Title – Alloa                    Relegation – Stenhousemuir  

Jack Ross has guided Alloa to 4 wins from 4 in the League Cup this season and had his side topping Group D at the expense of Raith Rovers and holders Ross County! Form expected to be carried into the league and a swift return to the Championship to be made by the Wasps.

An 9th and 8th placed finishes in the last two seasons but we are predicting an even poorer campaign this time around for Stenhousemuir.

Scottish League Two

Title – Forfar                    Relegation – Edinburgh City

Last but by no means least, Scottish League Two. Gary Bollan’s Forfar are our pick to top the division. Bollan took over from Dick Campbell last season and couldn’t quite save the Loons from the drop. Have had some positive results in pre-season and performed reasonably well in the Betfred Cup group stage.

It’s a one season deal for Edinburgh City, Having been promoted to the league structure they just don’t look capable of competing at the higher level.

All the best to your supported teams this coming season. Sorry if we’ve predicted a bad one for you but for every title win or day in the sun, there must be a heart-wrenching relegation or missed opportunity.

Guardiola & Mourinho image sourced from; www.dailymail.co.uk
Portsmouth vs. Plymouth image sourced from; news.coral.co.uk
Dundee United Image sourced from; www.bbc.co.uk

England Manager – The FA have chosen

Precisely 25 days since Roy Hodgson sat in a post match press conference telling all of Europe that his time was up as manager of the England team, they have found his successor.

Just over 3 weeks since FA CEO Martin Glenn told everyone “we’re going to harness opinion and wisdom from the wider part of the game, it’s really important that we get this right. It’s really that we get England into a situation where we can build on the strength that we’ve got. I think we’ve got a lot of strength in this squad and taking it forward with the view to the World Cup in Russia. It’s important that we make the right decisions. So we will be canvassing opinions from former managers, current managers, clubs and players to make sure we get wisdom on to this area” to name their man.

It taken less than a month of “looking abroad”, “looking for the best person for the job” and “not ruling out a foreign manager.” To get as far as Sunderland…and appoint Sam Allardyce.

Mr Glenn himself has declared that he is “not a football expert” and whilst that is acceptable he is clearly attempting to rid himself of full responsibility if this goes wrong.

Sam-Allardyce-Image

Now it’s is obviously difficult to predict just how Big Sam will fare in the Wembley hot seat but it is at this stage easy to cast our opinion.

England have settled for what was available at the level they are currently operating on and off the pitch, mediocrity!

Having a look at the positives:-

  • Yes, England will be a more organised unit
  • Yes, England will be harder to beat
  • Yes, he may actually have the bravery to drop under performers not matter which club they play for
  • Yes, he may pick players that suit him and not sponsors or reputations (James Tomkins anyone?)
  • Yes, you would imagine “yes” is not a word he will utter to the top brass at the FA’s every request

Surely though…these are the basics of football management?

Is he even qualified for the job of National Manger?

  • No major trophy win
  • No trophy win since 97-98 (3rd division title)
  • A mere 33.6 PL win %
  • A total of 5 games managed against European opposition (1 win)

England’s failing have been in the cup competitions, they qualify relatively unchallenged from the seeded groups pre any major tournament. You just have to look at the 100% record pre France.

Taking a look at Bolton, Newcastle, Blackburn and West Ham under Allardyce’s command in the last 10 years hardly provides optimism.

Other than 2 League Cup Semi Final appearances where his sides have conceded a bucket load, he is a 3rd round exit specialist, bear in mind that most of these clubs would have entered at this stage and you have a manager who struggles to navigate through knockout football.

Club

Season League Cup FA Cup

Bolton

2006-07 3rd Round

4th Round

Newcastle United

2007-08 3rd Round

3rd Round

Blackburn Rovers

2008-09

N/A

5th Round

2009-10

Semi Final

3rd Round

SF – Conceded 7 to Villa over 2 legs

2010-11

3rd Round

N/A

West Ham

2011-12 1st Round

3rd Round

2012-13

3rd Round

3rd Round

2013-14

Semi Final

3rd Round

SF -Conceded 9 to City over 2 legs

2014-15

3rd Round

5th Round

Sunderland

2015-16

3rd Round

3rd Round

Manchester-City-Semi-Final-Image

Sam Allardyce it has to be said, is a fire fighter and perhaps that is just what the FA need to extinguish the flames created by a group of over-paid, under-performing multi-millionaires at Euro 2016.

There will be a good indication of his credentials very early on in his reign. England are arguably in their toughest qualifying group for a number of years with Slovakia, Slovenian and Auld Enemy Scotland to contend with.

However much the majority of the media dress this up as a fantastic appointment i.e. “how it’s just what England need” and with the  backing from the likes of Sir Alex and Jose etc etc. But let’s be honest…

IT’S ONLY SAM ALLARDYCE!

Sam Allardyce image sourced from; www.thetelegraph.co.uk
Manchester City Club Semi Final image sourced from www.thetelegraph.co.uk