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How do Liverpool cope without Virgil Van Dijk?

One of the most hotly anticipated Merseyside derbies in recent years resulted in a great deal of controversy. The two sides drew 2-2 with Richarlison being sent off for Everton and Liverpool being denied a late Jordan Henderson winner with Sadio Mane adjudged to have been fractionally offside in the build-up. However, the biggest talking point of the weekend was the injury to the imperious Virgil Van Dijk, who was on the receiving end of a reckless challenge by Everton ‘keeper Jordan Pickford, made worse by the fact that Van Dijk was offside so neither a penalty nor a red card were awarded. Liverpool will be disappointed not to have won the game, especially with the questionable decisions by the VAR official but the damage of losing Van Dijk, potentially for the remainder of the season, could be far more severe.

This challenge could see Van Dijk miss the remainder of the season.

Since Liverpool signed Van Dijk for £75m from Southampton in 2018 he has been a rock in their defence and is arguably Liverpool’s most important signing, aside form perhaps Alisson, in Liverpool’s successful quest for European and Premier League glory. He oozes class and confidence and has a settling air about him which no doubt rubs off on his teammates. He is a natural leader and arguably the best defender in world football right now with many strikers appearing beaten by the mere presence of him on the team sheet before a ball is even kicked. This post explores how Liverpool may look to cope with the loss of the Dutchman and if indeed they can cope with this loss.

Liverpool let central defender Dejan Lovren leave the club to join Zenit St Petersburg in the summer and didn’t sign a replacement. While Lovren was fourth choice centre back at Liverpool at the time of his departure the failure to replace him did leave them short at the back prior to Van Dijk’s injury, especially when you consider Joel Matip’s injuries in his time at the club. Now that Van Dijk is out injured, Liverpool’s only two first-team centre-halves are Matip and Joe Gomez. They will have to establish a partnership straight away and both have always looked a better player with Van Dijk alongside them which says a lot about the Dutchman himself.

Matip staying fit will be key to Liverpool’s defence.

Highly-rated young defender Sepp Van den Berg was brought to the club last summer from Dutch club PEC Zwolle but at 18 years of age and without a single Premier League appearance to his name it seems unlikely that Jurgen Klopp will throw him in at the deep end unless forced to. Fabinho can play at the back and has done in spells in his time at Liverpool when injuries have left their options scarce but by putting him in defence Liverpool lose his influence at the base of their midfield. He is key to the way Liverpool play and is the man that provides the balance that allows the midfield and full-backs to get forward and support the front three.

Last season it was clear to see how much Manchester City struggled once star defender Aymeric Laporte was injured for a prolonged period, especially given the club had lost Vincent Kompany in the summer. This could be an almost identical situation; even more so if Fabinho is asked to play at the back. For City, Fernandinho was the player asked to transition from midfield to defence, although this process had already started with him moving deeper to accommodate Rodri in midfield prior to the injury to Laporte. Neither Gomez or Matip appear to have the leadership qualities of Van Dijk as was the case with the City defenders who were asked to replace Laporte and the effects of this on their solidity was evident for all to see. Liverpool will be desperate for this not to be the case for them as it could be the difference between retaining the Premier League title and seeing it go elsewhere.

Will Fabinho be asked to cover in defence?

One way that Liverpool could seek to limit the damage of the loss of Van Dijk would be a slight tweak to their tactics. This could see them play with Gomez and Matip at the heart of the defence but a change in the midfield to provide better protection to the back four. Klopp is unlikely to sway from his favoured 4-3-3 formation, however, we could see a slight tweak in that he plays with two deeper midfielders with one midfielder just in front of them, more in the mould of a 4-2-3-1 formation. This could see Fabinho and Jordan Henderson sitting deeper and one of Thiago Alcantara, Gini Wijnaldum or Naby Keita playing slightly more advanced. Thiago could also play the deeper role as he often did at Bayern and with his superior passing ability to the alternative options this could be a good way of bypassing high-pressing sides or speeding up play to try and beat a low-block which is often the way teams play against the champions.

Another tactical tweak that could be made by Klopp and his side is to defend less aggressively and concede some possession by dropping the back line a little deeper. Even with Van Dijk in the side this was an approach that left Liverpool vulnerable defensively as highlighted in emphatic fashion by Aston Villa’s seven goals in their last fixture before the international break. It would significantly reduce the risk of exposing the new defensive partnership who also may not be able to play offside as effectively as an established back four could.

One other option that Liverpool have would be to explore the free agent market, although this may leave them with slim pickings. One player who is currently unattched is ex-Real Madrid and Benfica defender Ezequiel Garay after his four-year spell at Valencia came to an end this summer. Despite no fee being paid this signing would still provide an element of risk. Garay is 34 years-old and ended his Valencia contract early in February of this year to allow an alternative player to be signed, following a crucial ligament injury to his right knee which saw him side-lined for the remainder of his contract. He hasn’t played since and is still coming back from the injury and this, coupled with his age, could mean that even if he is signed he will not be ready to play. However, with fixtures always coming thick and fast and European football to contend with another body in the squad could prove invaluable and, with Garay’s experience, it could prove an astute piece of business.

Could free agent Garay ease the burden on Liverpool’s defence?

How Liverpool will cope with the loss of Van Dijk remains to be seen but it will certainly be interesting to see how their season develops without him. It has often been said that he was the difference between Liverpool being a good side and a title-winning side and this period on the side-lines could either prove or disprove that notion. The other players in the squad will have to step up and it could give Gomez and Matip a chance to flourish, however the lack of defensive depth will remain a concern. Can Liverpool challenge for titles with their world-class Dutchman? We’re about to find out.

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The Premier League goal rush

After the first four matchdays of the 2020/21 season the Premier League has seen 144 goals scored in 38 fixtures. At this rate the season would end with an incredible 1,440 goals being scored. To put this into context, last season 1,034 goals were scored and the most goals scored in a 20-team Premier League season to date is 1,073 which came in the 2018/19 season. Incredibly, there has also been no 0-0 draws so far in the Premier League in the 38 games this season. Is the early goal fest a coincidence or are there factors at play that are causing this pattern? This post explores the factors that are potentially contributing to the Premier League goal rush.

Handball law

There is no doubt that the interpretation of the new handball law has resulted in a hugely increased number of penalties in the Premier League this season. It appeared that in the last round of fixtures before the international break Premier League referees had adopted less of a black and white approach to the handball law and applied more of a common sense approach. However this can not be said for the first few weeks of the new season. Some of the penalty decisions were astounding and if it were allowed to continue were sure to significantly reduce fans’ and players’ enjoyment of the game.

Graeme Souness said while working as a pundit for Sky Sports that this would see an increase in goals and drama and should be encouraged, however few fans seemed to agree with this notion and the danger that it posed to football as a spectacle. This being said, the early high number of penalties, 25 given in the 38 games so far, is a key factor to the high number of goals we have seen so far in the Premier League.

For many the handball penalty decision given against Tottenham’s Eric Dier was the final straw.

Lack of pre season

Due to Covid-19 extending the last season, Premier League clubs only had six weeks between the end of the 2019/20 season and the new season. When international fixtures and the European club competitions were also thrown into the pre-season, players really had very little time to rest at all. This lack of pre-season means that clubs were in difficult situations where they were trying to get their transfer business done and get their teams in shape for the new season with very little time to work things through on the training ground. Most clubs had only one or two pre-season friendlies, while Manchester City started their season having not played a single friendly match. This preparation is of course far from ideal and has meant that new signings have had to be integrated straight into competitive fixtures.

It has also meant that new tactics that clubs wish to utilise and implement have had very little time to be worked on and we are witnessing clubs and players trying to play new styles or use new tactics for the first time in important competitive fixtures. This is where the lack of pre-season is sure to have contributed to the high number of goals we are seeing in the early weeks of the season. One feature of this that was very much evident in the last Premier League fixture prior to the international break was the way that Liverpool’s high defensive line was carved apart by an Aston Villa side who barely survived relegation last season. It could be argued that there is no need for Liverpool to change a defensive set-up that proved so successful for them last season but Jurgen Klopp has looked to implement a high line which has proved problematic for Liverpool so far this season with the champions conceding 11 goals in four Premier League games so far. This has not just been a problem for Liverpool. Southampton’s high defensive line were the recipients of five Tottenham goals in a 1-5 home defeat with each goal seemingly all too simple as Tottenham picked off their opponents with ease by playing balls in behind. Had these sides had more time to work on this in pre-season would we be seeing them conceding so many goals in the same fashion?

Fatigue

A theme of the early weeks of the season has been managers speaking of the issues they have with the condensed fixture schedule. Jose Mourinho has been particularly vocal on this, although the fact that his side were made to play four games in seven days means that he may well have a point. Fatigue will be a major issue this season. The season itself feels almost like an extension of last season and players have had literally no time to recharge before the new season starting.

The need to accommodate all competitions as well as international fixtures means that there doesn’t look as though there will be any respite in the schedule. Fatigue leads to mistakes and mistakes often lead to goals. When players are fatigued they can often lose concentration which is where mistakes creep in and although the season is still very young this may already be contributing to the high scoring fixtures.

Everton’s Richarlison catches his breath.

Another issue that the fixture schedule and subsequent fatigue will bring is the need for increased rotation on previous campaigns. This will result in teams not always being able to field their strongest side and, although this won’t have been too much of a characteristic of the early weeks of the season, it could still have had an influence on the goals seen in the fixtures so far. Also, the inevitability of team’s being struck by positive Covid-19 tests and having to isolate or have players miss out unexpectedly will lead to further need for utilisation of the whole squad.

No fans

As was the case when the season resumed last season, fans are still not allowed to attend Premier League games. This has undoubtedly had an impact on the games, with the lack of fans meaning that there is no atmosphere in the stadium and home advantage has seemingly disappeared as a factor when considering the outcome of matches.

Initially the lack of fans meant that matches were played at a slower tempo and had something of a friendly feel but as this has slowly become the norm the intensity of fixtures has increased. The problem with having no fans in the stadium is that there is a huge loss of emotion in the fixtures. Many players thrive off the atmosphere that fans generate and the emotion and importance of games increases their performance levels. This can give players the extra energy to push on when behind in a game or the energy to battle to hold on when winning. The lack of fans and subsequent lack of motivation inevitably has lead to lapses in concentration from players. Without the heightened importance of the games provided by fans, players have certainly switched off at times and this has potentially led to an increase in the number of goals we are seeing.

Manchester United fans may be glad they couldn’t attend their 1-6 defeat to Tottenham.

While it is easy to say that fans not being present has been a negative there are some elements of games that have changed as a result. There is no question that everyone involved in football should be desperate for fans to return when conditions permit. However, players who have been underperforming and receiving negative reactions from their fans may be somewhat relieved by the lack of abuse they are now receiving from the stands. Without fans in the ground there isn’t such a negative response to things not working out and as such players may be more willing to try things that they would have thought better of with fans in the ground. A lot of sides are increasingly playing out from the back and this is certainly more comfortable without the anxiety of the side in possession’s fans. This increase in playing out from the back has seen mistakes made and this leads to the opposition gaining possession high up the pitch which has contributed to goals.

As a consequence of empty stadiums there is also less pressure in front of goal without fan noise as a distraction which is surely having an influence on the amount of chances converted in the Premier League. There is also less pressure on penalties without crowd noise and this will likely give penalties a training ground feel which means players are more likely to score. This has been evidenced by a remarkable 92% of the 25 penalties so far this season being scored, meaning only two have failed to be converted so far. This, coupled with the increase in penalties being awarded, has led to high scoring games and lots of talking points.

Some may say, like Souness, that the more goals and the more talking points the better. However, for the football purists this doesn’t sit right. Goals should be earned, they should not be almost given out as easily as they have been this season. While every fan loves to see goals, no proper football fan wants to have to wait with baited breath every time a ball hits a defender in the penalty box. The increase in goals is no bad thing but is the consequence of a number of variables with fans not being allowed in stadiums, harsh penalty decisions, and the disruption to the conventional football schedule due to Covid-19 pandemic all variables at play. The sooner football returns to normality the better but for now sit back and enjoy the Premier League goal rush.

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All the first team ins and outs in the Premier League this transfer window

It has been a strange transfer window this summer with the majority of clubs stung by the financial implications of the Covid-19 pandemic. Many clubs have had to sell and the usual huge transfer fees have been more of a rarity with owners having to find innovative ways of securing deals and sidestepping financial ramifications. Having said that, Premier League clubs have still spent a total of £1.25 billion which is £150m less than summer 2019. With the window now closed until January, the following lists the first team transfers in and out of each of the twenty Premier League clubs as well as a rating of their summer dealings.

Arsenal

Ins:

Gabriel Magalhaes (Lille) £27m – Defender

William Saliba (Saint-Etienne) £27m – Defender

Willian (Chelsea) Free – Attacker

Pablo Mari (Flamengo) Undisclosed – Defender

Cedric Soares (Southampton) £5m – Defender

Dani Ceballos (Real Madrid) Loan – Midfielder

Alex Runarsson (Dijon) Undisclosed – Goalkeeper

Thomas Partey (Atlético Madrid) £45m – Midfielder

Arsenal met Partey’s release clause in the last hour of the window.

Outs:

Henrikh Mkhitaryan (Roma) Undisclosed – Midfielder

Konstantinos Mavropanos (Stuttgart) Loan – Defender

Emiliano Martinez (Aston Villa) £20m – Goalkeeper

Matteo Guendouzi (Hertha Berlin) Loan

Lucas Torreira (Atlético Madrid) Loan – Midfielder

Transfer Window rating: 7/10

Aston Villa

Ins:

Emiliano Martinez (Arsenal) £20m – Goalkeeper

Matty Cash (Notthingham Forest) £16m – Defender

Bertrand Traore (Lyon) £17m – Attacker

Ollie Watkins (Brentford) £28m – Attacker

Ross Barkley (Chelsea) Loan – Midfielder

Outs:

Ross McCormack (Released) – Attacker

James Chester (Stoke) Free – Defender

James Bree (Luton) Undisclosed – Defender

Indiana Vassilev (Burton) Loan – Attacker

Scott Hogan (Birmingham) Undisclosed – Attacker

Mbwanna Samatta (Fenerbahce) Loan – Attacker

Transfer window rating: 8.5/10

Brighton

Ins:

Adam Lallana (Liverpool) Free – Midfielder

Joel Veltman (Ajax) £900,000 – Defender

Lars Dedoncker (Club Brugge) Free – Defender

Outs:

Leon Balogun (Wigan) Loan – Defender

Anthony Knockaert (Fulham) Undisclosed – Attacker

Martin Montoya (Real Betis) Undisclosed – Defender

Matt Clarke (Derby) Loan – Defender

Aaron Mooy (Shanghai SIPHG) Undisclosed – Midfielder

Glenn Murray (Watford) Loan – Attacker

Shane Duffy (Celtic) Loan – Defender

Jurgen Locadia (Cincinnati) Loan – Atatcker

David Button (West Brom) Undisclosed – Goalkeeper

Dale Stephens (Burnley) £1m – Midfielder

Transfer window rating: 5/10

Burnley

Ins:

Dale Stephens (Burnley) £1m – Midfielder

Will Norris (Wolves) Undisclosed – Goalkeeper

Outs:

Joe Hart (Tottenham) Free – Goalkeeper

Jeff Hendrick (Newcastle) Free – Midfielder

Aaron Lennon (Kayserispor) Free – Attacker

Adam Legzdins (Released) – Goalkeeper

Ben Gibson (Norwich) Loan – Defender

Transfer window rating: 3/10

Chelsea

Ins:

Kai Havertz (Bayer Leverkusen) £71m – Attacker

Thiago Silva (PSG) Free – Defender

Timo Werner (RB Leipzig) £48m – Attacker

Ben Chilwell (Leicester) £45m – Defender

Malang Sarr (Nice) Free – Defender

Edouard Mendy (Rennes) £22m – Goalkeeper

Hakim Ziyech (Ajax) £36m – Attacker

Kai Havertz was one of seven signings for Chelsea.

Outs:

Pedro (Roma) Free – Attacker

Willian (Arsenal) Free – Attacker

Ross Barkley (Aston Villa) Loan – Midfielder

Alvaro Morata (Atlético Madrid) £50m – Attacker

Nathan (Atlético Mineiro) 2.7m – Midfielder

Trevoh Chalobah (Lorient) Loan – Defender

Izzy Brown (Sheffield Wednesday) Loan – Attacker

Jamal Blackman (Rotherham) Loan – Goalkeeper

Marc Guehi (Swansea) Loan – Defender

Ethan Ampadu (Sheffield United) Loan – Defender/Midfielder

Michy Batshuayi (Crystal Palace) Loan – Attacker

Lewis Baker (Trabzonspor) Loan – Midfielder

Conor Gallagher (West Brom) Loan – Midfielder

Davide Zappacosta (Genoa) Loan – Defender

Ruben Loftus-Cheek (Fulham) Loan – Midfielder

Tiemoue Bakayoko (Napoli) Loan – Midfielder

Transfer window rating: 9/10

Crystal Palace

Ins:

Eberechi Eze (QPR) £19.5m – Midfielder

Nathan Ferguson (West Brom) Free – Defender

Michy Batshuayi (Chelsea) Loan – Atatcker

Outs:

Alexander Sorloth (RB Leipzig) Undisclosed – Attacker

Transfer window rating: 5.5/10

Everton

Ins:

Allan (Napoli) £22m – Midfielder

James Rodriguez (Real Madrid) £20m – Midfielder

Abdoulaye Doucoure (Watford) £20m – Midfielder

Ben Godfrey (Norwich) £25m – Defender

Niels Nkounkou (Marseille) Free – Defender

Robin Olsen (Roma) Loan – Goalkeeper

James Rodriguez already looks like one of the signings of the summer.

Outs:

Leighton Baines (Retired) – Defender

Luke Garbutt (Blackpool) Free – Defender

Oumar Niasse (Released – Attacker

Morgan Schneiderlin (Nice) Undisclosed – Midfielder

Kieran Dowell (Norwich) Undisclosed – Midfielder

Cuco Martina (Released) – Defender

Maarten Stekelenburg (Ajax) Free – Goalkeeper

Theo Walcott (Southampton) Loan – Attacker

Sandro Ramirez (Huesca) Free – Attacker

Transfer window rating: 9/10

Fulham

Ins:

Antonee Robinson (Wigan) £2m – Defender

Anthony Knockaert (Brighton) Undisclosed – Attacker

Mario Lemina (Southampton) Loan – Midfielder

Harrison Reed (Southampton) £6m – Midfielder

Alphonse Areola (PSG) Loan – Goalkeeper

Kenny Tete (Lyon) Undisclosed – Defender

Ola Aina (Torino) Loan – Defender

Ademola Lookman (RB Leipzig) Loan – Attacker

Joachim Andersen (Lyon) Loan – Defender

Ruben Loftus-Cheek (Chelsea) Loan – Midfielder

Loftus-Cheek will be hoping to get his career back on track with a loan spell at Fulham.

Outs:

Alfie Mawson (Bristol City) Loan – Defender

Steve Sessegnon (Bristol City) Loan – Defender

Marcus Bettinelli (Middlesbrough) Loan – Goalkeeper

Cyrus Christie (Nottingham Forest) Loan – Defender

Transfer window rating: 5/10

Leeds United

Ins:

Helder Costa (Wolves) £16m – Attacker

Robin Koch (Freiburg) Undisclosed – Defender

Illan Meslier (Lorient) Undisclosed – Goalkeeper

Joe Gelhardt (Wigan) Undisclosed – Attacker

Jack Harrison (Manchester City) Loan – Midfielder

Rodrigo Moreno (Valencia) £26m – Attacker

Diego Llorente (Real Sociedad) Undisclosed – Defender

Raphinha (Rennes) Undisclosed – Attacker

Raphinha was one of a number of exciting additions for Leeds.

Outs:

No first team departures

Transfer window rating: 7.5/10

Leicester City

Ins:

Cengiz Ünder (Roma) Loan – Attacker

Timothy Castagne (Atalanta) £25m – Defender

Wesley Fofana (St Etienne) £32m – Defender

Outs:

Ben Chilwell (Chelsea) £45m – Defender

Fousseni Diabate (Trabzonspor) Undisclosed – Attacker

George Thomas (QPR) Free – Midfielder

Rachid Ghezzal (Besiktas) Loan

Transfer window rating: 6/10

Liverpool

Ins:

Thiago Alcantara (Bayern Munich) £20m – Midfielder

Diogo Jota (Wolves) £45m – Attacker

Kostas Tsimikas (Olympiakos) £11.7m – Defender

Thiago Alcantara adds creativity to the Liverpool midfield.

Outs:

Dejan Lovren (Zenit) £10.9m – Defender

Adam Lallana (Brighton) Free – Midfielder

Andy Lonergan (Released) – Goalkeeper

Pedro Chirivella (Nantes) Free – Midfielder

Nathaniel Clyne (Released) – Defender

Ovie Ejaria (Reading) Undisclosed – Midfielder

Sheyi Ojo (Cardiff) Loan – Midfielder

Ki-Jana Hoever (Wolves) £9m – Defender

Loris Karius (Union Berlin) Loan – Goalkeeper

Rhian Brewster (Sheffield United) £23m – Attacker

Transfer window rating: 7.5/10

Manchester City

Ins:

Nathan Ake (Bournemouth) £41m – Defender

Ruben Dias (Benfica) £62m – Defender

Ferran Torres (Valencia) £21m – Attacker

Outs:

David Silva (Real Sociedad) Free – Midfielder

Nicolas Otamendi (Benfica) £13.7m – Defender

Leroy Sane (Bayern Munich) £54m – Attacker

Jack Harrison (Leeds) Loan – Midfielder

Lukas Nmecha (Anderlecht) Loan – Attacker

Claudio Bravo (Released) – Goalkeeper

Angelino (RB Leipzig) Loan – Defender

Transfer window rating: 6/10

Manchester United

Ins:

Odion Ighalo (Shanghai Shenua) Loan – Attacker

Donny Van de Beek (Ajax) £40m – Midfielder

Alex Telles (Porto) £13.5m – Defender

Amad Diallo Traore (Atalanta) Undisclosed – Attacker

Edinson Cavani (Unattached) Free – Attacker

Facundo Pellistri (Penarol) £10m – Attacker

United signed Cavani for free but missed out on long-term target Jason Sancho.

Outs:

Alexis Sanchez (Inter Milan) Undisclosed – Attacker

Tahith Chong (Werder Bremen) Loan – Attacker

Cameron Borthwick-Jackson (Oldham) Free – Defender

Angel Gomes (Lille) Free – Midfielder

Joel Pereira (Huddersfield Town) Loan – Goalkeeper

Dylan Levitt (Charlton) Loan – Midfielder

James Garner (Watford) Loan – Midfielder

Andreas Pereira (Lazio) Loan – Midfielder

Diogo Dalot (AC Milan) Loan – Defender

Chris Smalling (Roma) £13.6m – Defender

Transfer window rating: 5/10

Newcastle United

Ins:

Callum Wilson (Bournemouth) £20m – Attacker

Jamal Lewis (Norwich) Undisclosed – Defender

Ryan Fraser (Bournemouth) Free – Midfielder

Jeff Hendrick (Burnley) Free – Midfielder

Mark Gillespie (Motherwell) Free – Goalkeeper

Callum Wilson could provide the goals at Newcastle.

Outs:

Jack Colback (Nottingham Forest) Free – Midfielder

Rob Elliott (Released) – Goalkeeper

Freddie Woodman (Swansea) Loan – Goalkeeper

Florian Lejeune (Deportivo Alaves) Loan – Defender

Yoshinori Muto (Eibar) Loan – Attacker

Dan Barlaser (Rotherham) Undisclosed – Midfielder

Transfer window rating: 7/10

Sheffield United

Ins:

Oliver Burke (West Brom) Swap for Callum Robinson – Attacker

Jayden Bogle (Derby) Undisclosed – Defender

Max Lowe (Derby) Undisclosed – Defender

Ethan Ampadu (Chelsea) Loan – Defender/Midfielder

Aaron Ramsdale (Bournemouth) £18.5m – Goalkeeper

Wes Foderingham (Rangers) Free – Goalkeeper

Rhian Brewster (Liverpool) £23m – Attacker

Outs:

Mark Duffy (Fleetwood) Free – Midfielder

Luke Freeman (Nottingham Forest) Loan – Midfielder

Rhys Norrington-Davies (Luton) Loan – Midfielder

Callum Robinson (West Brom) Swap for Oliver Burke – Attacker

Leon Clarke (Shrewsbury) Free – Attacker

Transfer window rating: 6/10

Southampton

Ins:

Mohammed Salisu (Real Valladolid) £10.9m – Defender

Kyle Walker-Peters (Tottenham) £12m – Defender

Ibrahima Diallo (Brest) £11m – Midfielder

Theo Walcott (Everton) Loan – Attacker

Theo Walcott rejoins Saints on loan 14 years after leaving the club.

Outs:

Pierre-Emile Højbjerg (Tottenham) Undisclosed – Midfielder

Mohamed Elyounoussi (Celtic) Loan – Attacker

Maya Yoshida (Released) – Defender

Cedric Soares (Arsenal) Undisclosed – Defender

Mario Lemina (Fulham) Loan – Midfielder

Harrison Reed (Fulham) £6m – Midfielder

Alfie Jones (Hull) Undisclosed – Defender

Guido Carrillo (Elche) Free – Attacker

Sofiane Boufal (Angers) Free – Attacker

Wesley Hoedt (Lazio) Loan – Defender

Transfer window rating: 7/10

Tottenham Hotspur

Ins:

Gareth Bale (Real Madrid) Loan – Attacker

Pierre-Emile Højbjerg (Southampton) Undisclosed – Midfielder

Sergio Reguilón (Real Madrid) £21m – Defender

Joe Hart (Burnley) Free – Goalkeeper

Matt Doherty (Wolves) £14.7m – Defender

Carlos Vinicius (Benfica) Loan – Attacker

Bale returns to Spurs on loan to the delight of their fans.

Outs:

Jan Vertonghen (Benfica) Free – Defender

Kyle Walker-Peters (Southampton) £12m – Defender

Luke Amos (QPR) Undisclosed – Midfielder

Troy Parfitt (Millwall) Loan – Attacker

Oliver Skipp (Norwich) Loan – Midfielder

Victor Wanyama (Montreal Impact) Free – Midfielder

Ryan Sessegnon (Hoffenheim) Loan – Defender

Transfer window rating: 9/10

West Brom

Ins:

Grady Diangana (West Ham) Undisclosed – Attacker

Callum Robinson (Sheffield United) Swap for Oliver Burke – Attacker

Branislav Ivanovic (Zenit) Free – Defender

Matheus Pereira (Sporting Lisbon) Undisclosed – Midfielder

David Button (Brighton) Undisclosed – Goalkeeper

Conor Gallagher (Chelsea) Loan – Midfielder

Filip Krovinovic (Benfica) Loan – Midfielder

Cedric Kipre (Wigan) Undisclosed – Attacker

Outs:

Jonathan Leko (Birmingham) Undisclosed – Midfielder

Chris Brunt (Bristol City) Free – Midfielder

Oliver Burke (Sheffield United) Swap for Callum Robinson – Attacker

Transfer window rating: 5/10

West Ham

Ins:

Vladimir Coufal (Slavia Prague) £5.4m – Defender

Tomas Soucek (Slavia Prague) £15m – Midfielder

Outs:

Jordan Hugill (Norwich) £5m – Attacker

Jeremy Ngakia (Watford) Free – Defender

Albian Ajeti (Celtic) £4.5m – Attacker

Sead Haksabanovic (IFK Norrkoping) Undisclosed – Midfielder

Carlos Sanchez (Released) – Midfielder

Pablo Zabaleta (Released) – Defender

Roberto (Real Valladolid) Free – Goalkeeper

Grady Diangana (West Brom) Undisclosed – Attacker

Josh Cullen (Anderlecht) Undisclosed – Midfielder

Transfer window rating: 2/10

Wolves

Ins:

Marcal (Lyon) £2m – Defender

Fabio Silva (Porto) £35m – Attacker

Vitinha (Porto) Loan – Midfielder

Ki-Jana Hoever (Liverpool) £9m – Defender

Nelson Semedo (Barcelona) £27m – Defender

Rayan Ait-Nouri (Angers) Loan – Defender

Wolves added to their Portuguese contingency with 18 year-old Fabio Silva.

Outs:

Diogo Jota (Liverpool) £45m – Attacker

Morgan Gibbs-White (Swansea) Loan

Helder Costa (Leeds United) £16million – Attacker

Matt Doherty (Tottenham) £14.7m

Will Norris (Burnley) Undisclosed – Goalkeeper

Leo Bonatini (Grasshopper Club Zurich) Loan – Attacker

Ruben Vinagre (Olympiakos) Loan – Defender

Transfer window rating: 6.5/10

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Why Mourinho and Tottenham is a relationship that will end in disaster

Tottenham’s opening fixture against big-spending Everton was never going to be an easy start. The defeat itself at this early stage of the season is by no means a disaster, but the manner of the defeat is very worrying. Tottenham seemed to show absolutely no desire to win the game of football. They were slow both on and off the ball, they couldn’t string together any meaningful possession and the lack of creativity in the side was blindingly obvious.

Carlo Ancelotti got his tactics spot on and made Spurs pay for their poor performance. Whether Mourinho got his tactics wrong or his side failed to execute them is a question to be raised, but the Portuguese coach was undoubtedly frustrated after the game. Performances like this were somewhat accepted last season due to the timing of Mourinho coming in and the injuries his side had but this leniency from the fans will not last forever, particularly as his appointment divided the fan base instantly. Many fans felt his negative approach to games was against everything spurs had come to stand for in their philosophy while others’ desperation for silverware meant they were willing to back José. Daniel Levy has been an admirer of Mourinho for a long time and was delighted to get him on board but this could be a relationship that ends in disaster and this post explores why.

Mourinho is famous for being successful in his second season at a club and Tottenham will be hoping that this pattern will be reciprocated this season. However, more recently he has also had a tendency to self-destruct and alienate all those around him when things aren’t going well and it is this scenario which spurs will be desperate to avoid. He has adopted a squad that has been struggling for a while, with last season’s Champions League final appearance merely papering over some very large cracks.

Towards the end of Mauricio Pochettino’s time in charge he looked like a man who had nothing left to give. He had tried and tried again to find a solution but spurs were struggling. The side desperately needed investment and Pochettino was never really satisfied with his lack of say on contracts and transfers throughout his five years at the club. These are all problems that Mourinho seems to be starting to realise for himself.

Tottenham’s chairman Daniel Levy is notorious for his strict wage structure and being very difficult to deal with, particularly in the transfer window. This has led to Tottenham missing out on a number of transfers over the years, with Levy refusing to budge on his stance on wages and fees. While Tottenham do have a brand new state-of-the-art stadium, fans were ensured that the money spent on this was from a separate pot of money to the transfer funds. Under Pochettino Spurs went a whole year without making a signing and this would have infuriated Pochettino, with the Argentinian more aware than anyone that his squad could not stand still and needed freshening up. José has adopted a talented squad but a squad that, almost to a man, has been underperforming and he needs to do something to change this.

Daniel Levy is known for being frugal with the club’s finances.

The problem for Tottenham is that Mourinho will not take as long as his predecessor to grow restless if the board fail to invest in the side. He also wants players that can play a particular away and going by previous history these will not necessarily be the players the club have gone for. Spurs’ business model has been to buy players with potential, who will reach their prime in a few seasons and are also likely to increase in value. Mourinho is known to favour ready made players who will be able to implement his tactics.

It is highly unlikely that Mourinho would have accepted the job at Tottenham, particularly mid-season, without assurances that there will be investment and he will have at least an element of control over transfers. Levy has been a admirer of Mourinho for years and it has been said that José has always been his dream manager. This infatuation with the idea of Mourinho guiding Tottenham to glory is perhaps the only thing that could make Levy budge on his transfer and wage policy. This is the exact reason this could end up being a very expensive gamble. If it doesn’t work out Tottenham could be left with a squad that goes against their philosophy and with little resale value that any manager coming in would have to work very hard to rebuild. In short, this relationship could leave a mess that takes a considerable amount of time to clean up which is something Tottenham cannot afford if they want to continue to push for Champions League football year on year.

The main issue that Tottenham fans are likely to have with Mourinho is the same issue that fans of Manchester United had. The style of play. Mourinho is a winner and he doesn’t care what that looks like but fans of Manchester United grew accustomed to exciting, attacking football that entertained under Sir Alex Ferguson, and this was not at the expense of success. Tottenham may not have achieved the success of United but they have also acquired a taste for the finer style of football they have seen their side play in recent years. Pochettino’s brand of football was thrilling at times and Harry Redknapp before him was also a manager who was far more concerned with attack than defence.

While Mourinho deserves to be given time the football has been awful at times. Admittedly it had been for a while prior to his appointment with the players seemingly lacking ideas and weary from five years of the same methods. Many felt that Spurs needed something new, and perhaps they were right, but the issues stem far deeper than Pochettino’s methods. However, with the end of Pochettino’s tenure becoming less raw Spurs fans will look back fondly on the football played at times and the success they achieved with it with a series of top four finishes and Champions League final appearance, although a trophy remained elusive.

The argument that was damning for Pochettino and favours Mourinho is the subject of trophies. Despite his obvious ability, Pochettino has never won a trophy in his managerial career. Mourinho, on the other hand, has won 22. However, his powers to seem to have weaned somewhat with attacking, high-pressing football making a revolution in recent years. He is a manager that concentrates on his defence first and works his way forward. A perfectly legitimate method of building a team, however at some point some emphasis must be given to the forward players.

Pochettino and his successor share a joke.

Spurs were a painful watch against Everton on Sunday. Everything was far too slow and it culminated in a lacklustre performance. Some consideration must be given to the condensed pre-season and the perhaps unnecessary international break but this was the same for every side in the Premier League. Christian Eriksen’s performances prior to his departure to Inter Milan were really poor and seemed to be those of a player whose head was elsewhere but Spurs have still missed him dearly. His vision and ability to pick a pass was something Spurs were desperately in need of on Sunday. Giovani Lo Celso was absent and has looked to be a talented individual but he has come nowhere near to filling the void left by Eriksen yet. Tottenham have gone from arguably one of the most exciting sides to watch in the Premier League to one of the worst which should be inexplicable with the players they still have at their disposal. Fans’ absence from the stadium may be a blessing for Mourinho as there is no doubt they would be voicing their discontent at the football on display from their team.

Spurs have made two signings so far this summer. They have signed Irishman Matt Doherty from Wolves after an impressive couple of seasons for in the Premier League and midfield enforcer Pierre-Emile Højbjerg from Southampton. Doherty has flourished at right wing-back for Wolves and his ability going forward was a key component of the way they played. However, it will be interesting to see how he does in a conventional back four under Mourinho and he may be used in a similar way as Serge Aurier has been under Jose. Aurier is used as almost a right winger when Spurs are attacking with the more defensively minded Ben Davies tucking in from left-back go form a defensive back three allowing Aurier to attack. Højbjerg will slot straight into the midfield as he did against Everton but it remains to be seen if he will play as a double pivot with Harry Winks long-term or of Mourinho’s hand was forced by Lo Celso being unavailable.

Matt Doherty has been brought in at right-back.

It is hard to imagine that either of these signings will get Spurs fans too excited but they appear to be players that Mourinho wanted. Right-back was an area that required improvement as Mourinho doesn’t trust Aurier due to his reckless nature. Højbjerg’s aggression in midfield will help Mourinho’s side become more difficult to play against and the Dane regained possession more than any other player in the Premier League last season.

Pierre-Emile Højbjerg was brought in to add some steel to the midfield.

If Levy wasn’t chairman of Tottenham then it would be hard to imagine that Spurs’ transfer business is done for the window but his shortcomings in bringing in players in previous windows will raise doubts. Spurs desperately need a striker to share some of the burden with Kane. Kane has looked exhausted at times and has struggled with injuries in periods over the last couple of seasons. The difficulty comes from the fact that it is very difficult to sign a striker of quality who is willing to play second fiddle to a player who will always be first choice. This has been Spurs’ problem for a number of seasons and it is appearing to be problematic once more, with links to the likes of Troy Deeney leaving fans with heads in their hands.

Question marks must be raised over whether the signings of Højbjerg and Doherty actually improve Spurs. In recent seasons Spurs have lost Moussa Dembele, Victor Wanyama, Christian Eriksen and Kieran Trippier to name a few. Arguably all of those players are better than Spurs’ two new recruits. Watching the game on Sunday it must have been difficult for Spurs fans to see Everton’s new signings Allan and James Rodriguez perform so well for their new club. Two players that could quite easily have improved the Spurs eleven and were obviously available this summer. James’ creativity would be a huge improvement on what Spurs have now and it is difficult to argue against Allan being a better player than Højbjerg performing much the same role.

It is not just the new signings, or lack of, that is a worry for Spurs. The current crop aren’t performing and haven’t been for some time. The principle example of this is Dele Alli. When Mourinho first came in he was clearly hoping he could help Alli rediscover his form and make him a key member of the side. Alli showed glimpses in the first few weeks of Mourinho’s reign but this soon fizzled out. Alli looks a shadow of his former self and it is difficult to see what it will take to get him back to his best. Mourinho has also placed a lot of faith in the likes of Eric Dier and Lucas Moura despite their performances never really warranting it. The squad undoubtedly needs freshening up. Too many of the squad have been there for a long time and have become too comfortable, perhaps losing the hunger to fight for their place and becoming disillusioned by the goings on at the club.

Spurs can not afford to stand still or before they know it they may be in the market for a first choice striker rather than a back up. Harry Kane is in the peak of his career and will be 28 by the start of next season. He has been very loyal to Tottenham but he cannot wait forever to win a trophy and he certainly won’t stick around if the club appear to be going backwards. He will never be short of offers and would of course command a huge price tag but his goals would be a huge loss.

The loss of goals may be insignificant when compared to the rippling effect the Spurs talisman leaving could have. Those around him would no doubt question their own futures at the club, particularly if Kane goes on to have success and win trophies elsewhere. If the club refuse to invest in bridging the gap to the top sides in the league and Europe then they could find themselves in free-fall. Kane has looked sluggish at times in the last year and has been struggling to get involved in games which is undoubtedly somewhat down to Mourinho’s tactics. If the lack of trophies aren’t enough to make Kane look elsewhere then the style of football might be.

If things don’t improve will Kane move elsewhere?

Levy did loosen the purse stings in the summer of 2019 to severe the services of talented Frenchman Tanguy Ndombele for £63m. It’s fair to say it’s a move that hasn’t yet come to fruition with the 23 year-old struggling initially under Pochettino and now barely featuring under Mourinho. This is a saga that looks like deja vu from the outside with its similarities to the feud between Mourinho and another Frenchman, Paul Pogba, at Manchester United. Ndombele is by no means blameless in this dispute as it is unforgivable that a club’s most expensive transfer should be unfit which has been cited as an issue by both Pochettino and Mourinho. However, when Ndombele does play he shows glimpses of the talent that made Tottenham pay so much for his services and his ability to run with the ball and break the lines with his passing is something Tottenham’s midfield is so desperately in need of. This is a tricky situation for Spurs and the board. They will not want to have their record signing continue to be absent from the side but also won’t want to risk selling him for him to prove to be a world-class talent further down the line. Is backing Mourinho worth losing the talent they tried so hard to acquire?

Ndombele has struggled to justify his £63m price tag.

Ndombele is one reason Mourinho could turn out to be a very expensive gamble on Levy’s part. Mourinho is also now the best paid manager in the Premier League and yet so far the results haven’t merited this, although he has had injuries and a series of issues to deal with. There is no doubt he should be given time to be a success at Tottenham but the short-sightedness of his approach could result in lasting damage if he is not a success at Tottenham.

It is unfair to say that Mourinho’s methods are outdated but his defensive approach is proving increasingly difficult to sell to his players who have seen the attacking approaches of Klopp and Guardiola prove so successful elsewhere. Mourinho will also not stand for a lot of the things that Pochettino did for so long. Should there continue to be a lack of investment and key targets missed then expect Mourinho to be vocal on these subjects. While Pochettino was clearly fed up, history denotes Mourinho is likely to be more fiery and if he is to go on the warpath with Levy things could get very ugly for both sides. However, any sacking of the three time premier league winner will result in a very costly payout that would dent Tottenham’s finances further. If Mourinho brings silverware to Tottenham then the gamble could be said to have paid off but if not then this could be a relationship that ends in disaster.

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Full-back Focus: England’s Euros conundrum

While it may be harsh to read too much into the Nations League fixtures due to the fact that they are effectively being played in pre-season, they did raise issues that England will need to resolve. One thing that is clear from these fixtures is that Gareth Southgate doesn’t know his best eleven and there is a lot of work to be done in preparation for Euro 2021. England lacked creativity and were blunt in attack in both fixtures and didn’t register a single effort on goal in the first half of the 0-0 draw with Denmark.

While Southgate’s hands were tied slightly by availability, not helped by the behaviour of Phil Foden and Mason Greenwood, the sides fielded against both Iceland and Denmark show that there is a lot to think about. For starters, England played a different shape in both games, lining up in a 4-3-3 formation against Iceland and a 3-4-3 against Denmark.

The focus of this piece is the full-back areas for England. England started the Iceland game with Kyle Walker at right-back and Kieran Trippier filling in at left-back. Against Denmark Southgate opted for Trent Alexander-Arnold at right wing-back and Trippier at left wing-back. It is however worth nothing that Southgate’s options at full-back for the Denmark game were hampered by Kyle Walker’s sending off in the victory over Iceland.

It is difficult to gauge what Southgate makes of his options at full-back from this international break, mainly due to the lack of available left-backs. If fit, it would be expected that Ben Chilwell, newly of Chelsea, and Luke Shaw of Manchester United would be the pair chosen. Of the two Chilwell is likely to be Southgate’s first choice due to his consistent performances and he had started England’s previous three competitive games prior to this round of fixtures.

Chilwell recently signed for Chelsea for a fee believed to be £50m.

Shaw has suffered a number of injuries which will always be a concern, especially with tournament football. However, he does provide a good option for Southgate, whether that be cover or in a starting role. The worry for Southgate is that with both Chilwell and Shaw injured he obviously doesn’t have confidence in the other English left-backs that are available for selection, as demonstrated by the fact that no natural left-backs were selected in this squad.

Shaw made his England debut in 2014 but only has 8 caps to his name.

Bukayo Saka is with the under-21 national side and after a breakthrough season is perhaps unfortunate to be left out. He is not naturally a left-back but has filled in more than adeptly at Arsenal this season and it seems strange that Southgate didn’t want to, at the very least, have a look at him in training. Another player that can perhaps consider themselves hard done by is Charlie Taylor of Burnley. He has had another solid season on the left side of Burnley’s resolute defence and the feeling is that had he played for a more glamorous club he could have found himself in the squad. An argument which is supported further by the fact that the impressive Dwight McNeil has not even been included in the under-21’s after a remarkable season at Burnley.

Hard done by? Charlie Taylor in action for Burnley.

While Southgate will no doubt be exploring alternative options at left-back over the course of the new season, it is the right-back position that will be giving him more headaches. In this squad he has Trippier, Walker, Alexander-Arnold and Ainsley Maitland-Niles who could also be considered a right-back after playing most of his games for Arsenal there and coming on for Alexander-Arnold for the dying embers of the Denmark game.

After not being included in the last two squads for England, this international break had something of a last chance saloon feel for Kyle Walker. Southgate showed faith in the Manchester City full-back and started him in the victory over Iceland only for Walker to fly recklessly into a needless challenge to pick up his second yellow card and leave England playing with ten men. Post-match Southgate explained the emphasis he has put to his squad on not getting red cards in his time in charge, citing the number of times it has led to England’s departure from major tournaments. Walker himself seemed crestfallen when he addressed the media after the game and looked as though he knew that his England career is very much in the balance.

He was deployed at right centre-back in Russia in 2018 and his pace was a real asset in that role. Some of his off the field antics may have played a part in Southgate’s decision to leave him out of the recent squads but if he is to revert to the back three that gave England success in 2018 then it would be a bold decision not to take Walker to Euro 2021. He may find himself playing to save his England career this season but a season of positive performances for City would be difficult to ignore. At 30 he may see this as his last chance of a major tournament for England and he will be desperate to ensure his 49th cap isn’t his last.

Walker sees red against Iceland.

Kieran Trippier delighted England fans with his free-kick to put England 1-0 up over Croatia in the World Cup semi-final in 2018. However, a poor season at Tottenham and a move to Atlético Madrid later and his stock may have fallen somewhat since that night. A move to Spain and out of the English media spotlight will have done him no harm. He will have learnt a lot about the dark arts of defending under the tutelage of Atlético boss Diego Simeone which could be a useful tool for England.

Southgate still seems to trust Trippier and he was deployed as the covering left-back and left wing-back in the games against Iceland and Denmark. Whether he can still be considered a starter will depend on the season he has at Atlético and what Southgate thinks he needs from his full backs for the Euros. His crossing is his biggest strength and has been a valuable weapon for England but his slight lack of pace may work against him.

Trippier has learnt a lot at Atlético Madrid.

Trent Alexander-Arnold has to be in the driving seat for the first choice right-back position. Coming off the back of winning the PFA Young Player of the Year award he started the draw with Denmark at right wing-back. It would seem odd that he is yet to really tie down the right-back spot with England and has never really put together a run of games for his national side with 11 appearances to his name. This may owe to the perceived defensive weaknesses he has, a problem that isn’t often highlighted at Liverpool due to their dominance and attacking style. His range of passing, crossing ability and goal threat are undoubted but in games where England may find themselves against superior opposition in the latter stages of a major tournament his defensive capabilities will certainly be called into question.

Alexander-Arnold celebrates his first international goal in a 3-0 friendly win over USA.

Alexander-Arnold is still only 21 years old however and is sure to have a long and successful England career ahead of him. Despite his youthful years he has no shortage of big game experience, appearing in two Champions League finals, a Club Word Cup final, and being an integral part of Liverpool’s Premier League title win. He also has experience of a major international tournament as he was part of the 23-man squad at the 2018 World Cup in Russia and featured in the two games against Belgium.

One man who can consider himself unfortunate to have not received a full England cap to date is Aaron Wan-Bissaka. The 22 year-old signed for Manchester United for £50m in the summer of 2019 and has proved a very good addition to the right side of their defence.

His strengths lie in defending and there is work to be done going forward, with the youngster often looking short of ideas in the final third. He has a lot of pace and his ability to make recovery runs is very good. However, his main strength is his defending one-on-one. When tasked with standing up to a winger and winning back possession he is England’s best one-on-one defender. Although he hasn’t been utilised there at club level, he also would appear to have the attributes to play on the right of a back three in a role similar to the one Kyle Walker has performed for his country.

With tournament football in mind versatility is always a selling point for any player in the selection process and it is important to cover all bases with the 23 players selected. A right-back duo of Alexander-Arnold and Wan-Bissaka would appear to do that. In games against lesser nations Alexander-Arnold would provide the attacking prowess required to help to break a side down. When faced with a side that is superior in possession, Wan-Bissaka’s defensive capabilities would make him very useful for Southgate and it would be a surprise if this isn’t considered ahead of the Euros next summer.

Wan-Bissaka in action for Manchester United.

One thing that is for certain is that Southgate will have to make some big decisions in advance of Euro 2021 and his full-back positions could create a real dilemma for him. The problem being that at left-back there appears to be a lack of depth and at right-back there is almost too much.

Ashley Young and Danny Rose were the left-backs taken to the 2018 World Cup but it is highly unlikely either will feature for England again moving forward. At right-back there is a far higher chance of the trio of Walker, Alexander-Arnold and Trippier getting another shot at international glory. However, whether all three can, or should, be accommodated into the squad remains to be seen. If an English left-back has an impressive season then they have every chance of making the squad and this should be real motivation for the likes of Bukayo Saka, Charlie Taylor or even Ryan Bertrand to earn his first cap in three years. Southgate has a number of areas that require addressing ready for the Euros and full-back is certainly one of them.

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England Nations League preview: The squad, the opposition and Southgate’s dilemmas

As the majority of club sides gear up for the delayed start to the season due to the overrun of last season, international fixtures seem an unnecessary inclusion at the beginning of the 2020/21 football calendar.

However, UEFA have gone ahead with the Nations League fixtures despite the fact that the majority of countries competing will be without certain players for a number of reasons, varying from recent involvement in European club competition to testing positive for Covid-19. The following assesses the England squad selected by Gareth Southgate, the players missing out, and also the opposition.

Fixtures:

Sat 5th September 5pm – Iceland (a)

Tuesday 8th September 7.45pm – Denmark (a)

The squad:

Jordan Pickford, Nick Pope, Dean Henderson (first inclusion)

Trent Alexander-Arnold, Kieron Trippier, Kyle Walker, Joe Gomez, Conor Coady (first inclusion), Michael Keane, Tyrone Mings, Ainsley Maitland-Niles (first inclusion)

Kalvin Phillips (first inclusion), Declan Rice, James Ward-Prowes, Eric Dier, Mason Mount, Phil Foden (first inclusion), Jack Grealish (first inclusion)

Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, Tammy Abraham, Danny Ings, Mason Greenwood (first inclusion), Jadon Sancho

Talking points:

As if the difficulties that playing international fixtures during a global pandemic cause weren’t enough, Gareth Southgate has had to deal with one of his regular starters being found guilty of a number of charges while on holiday in Greece. Harry Maguire was initially selected for the squad but, after being found guilty in Greek court on the same day, was subsequently withdrawn from the squad.

Southgate has given a number of players their first opportunity to meet up with the squad, including youngsters Dean Henderson, Phil Foden and Mason Greenwood. Following the withdrawals of Harry Winks and Marcus Rashford, as well as Maguire, Conor Coady, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and, most notably, Jack Grealish were all drafted in to join the squad for the first time. Grealish’s initial omission was a source of great debate with most feeling his form last season warranted his inclusion, particularly after Southgate claimed previously he needed to prove himself in the Premier League to be considered. In a contradiction to Southgate’s statement on Grealish, Kalvin Phillips has been included in the squad after a fine season guiding Leeds to the Premier League. Elsewhere, Southampton’s Danny Ings makes his first squad in five years and club team mate James Ward-Prowes also earns a recall to the squad.

Kalvin Phillips made the squad despite never playing a Premier League game

One thing Southgate needs to decide well in advance of the Euros next summer is who his number one goalkeeper is going to be. Through Southgate’s time in charge it has been Jordan Pickford who has had his trust but after a couple of shaky seasons at Everton can he be counted in to continue to defend England’s goal? Despite this, Pickford has rarely let Southgate down in an England shirt and performed heroics in England’s run to the 2018 World Cup semi-final. His distribution is also a very useful tool for England and one area where he is above his rivals for the shirt.

The form of Nick Pope at Burnley cannot be ignored and he was pipped at the post for the Premier League golden glove, after failing to keep a clean sheet in the final game of the season. Due to the direct manner in which Burnley play, there are question marks over his distribution as he is not expected to be as adept with his feet as many goalkeepers are now and this could count against him. Dean Henderson also comes off the back of a fine season, his first in the Premier League, and has recently signed a new long-term contract at Manchester United. He will be full of confidence and keen to be given a chance for England. The Nations League games could provide Southgate with the perfect chance to trial either keeper in a competitive fixture without as much risk as there would be giving them their first competitive action in a major tournament. The England boss knows what Pickford offers him and it will be a surprise if he doesn’t use this opportunity to have a look at another potential candidate for the number one jersey.

Could Henderson make his senior England debut?

One position of note is left back as injuries to both Chelsea new boy Ben Chilwell and Manchester United’s Luke Shaw have led to Southgate not naming any recognised left backs in the squad. It will be interesting to see whether Southgate utilises one of the right backs in the squad to deputise or relies on the versatility of players such as Tyrone Mings, who started his career as a left back, or Ainsley Maitland-Niles whose adaptability will be a key reason for his inclusion.

Alternatively England could opt to play three at the back, a formation which gave them so much success at the 2018 World Cup, where they could use a winger in the left wing-back role. Southgate used this formation in Russia due to his lack of faith in any of his centre-back pairings and if he is to play four at the back moving forward then he needs to find a solid partnership. Maguire’s absence won’t help that process as he is generally seen as a guaranteed starter. Maguire has been paired with Joe Gomez in more recent England fixtures and this may be the partnership Southgate has in mind but he can’t give the pair another test together this time around. Conor Coady’s call up could also be a clue that Southgate’s hand may be forced to play three at the back due to the players at his disposal, as the Wolves captain has excelled in the middle of a back three for Wolves in the Premier League.

With Jordan Henderson and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain both missing out with knee injuries and Harry Winks dropping out of the squad, the midfield is likely to have an experimental feel to it. Declan Rice, Eric Dier and Kalvin Phillips may well all be competing to be the sole defensive pivot if England are to play a 4-3-3 formation. Aside from the pivot, the other two midfield slots could be two from James Ward-Prowes, Mason Mount and Phil Foden, however Southgate could also consider Jack Grealish and Ainsley Maitland-Niles as options for the two central midfield positions. This despite Southgate stating he sees Grealish more as a winger. Ward-Prowes may be the main beneficiary as he is the only conventional central midfielder in the squad, with the others playing most of their football as either defensive or attacking midfielders. Whichever three players Southgate combines, assuming he does opt for a midfield three, they will not have played together often if at all so it will be intriguing to see how England perform in two potentially difficult fixtures.

Ward-Prowes could benefit from midfield absentees

In attack is where England excel with genuinely world class players they can call upon. It’s hard to think of any forward lines in international football with more ability and potential, with the exception of perhaps France. Harry Kane has been able to recreate his club form for his country which is where so many of England’s big names have failed in the past and guarantees goals. Jadon Sancho and Raheem Sterling are two of the most exciting wingers in world football and Marcus Rashford is a more than capable deputy although he has withdrawn from this particular squad. Danny Ings has earned his chance and can perhaps expect to be ahead of Tammy Abraham in the pecking order should Kane be replaced at any point.

Kane is England’s captain and talisman

With a number of new additions on top of some players that have featured regularly in Southgate’s time as England manager it will be interesting to see how Southgate approaches these Nations League fixtures. Will he place his trust in the players who have performed for him so far in his tenure or will he experiment with some of the new inclusions?

Potential line-ups:

Should Southgate opt for a 4-3-3 formation he could line up like this
If Southgate reverts to three at the back this could be his starting eleven

The opposition:

Saturday’s trip to Iceland sees the two countries meet for the first time since that night at Euro 2016 which was so infamous for England. Iceland have sustained their status as a team who are difficult to beat and have gained the respect of the footballing world following their Euro 2016 campaign. They will be without Premier League pair Gylfi Sigurdsson and Johan Berg Gudmundsson which is a major blow but should still be a difficult proposition for England. They will surrender possession and look to be very difficult to break down and are likely to be looking to utilise set pieces as their best chances of scoring. England will be very wary of what happened the last time the two sides met and will be looking to put the demons of the last fixture to rest with a win.

Iceland dumped England out of Euro 2016 the last time the two sides met

Denmark will be more technical than Iceland and possess genuine quality. Christian Eriksen is the talisman and will be the centre of everything going forward for the Danes while the likes of Tottenham new boy Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg will provide bite in midfield. England will need to be confident in possession and it may be down to whoever is tasked with anchoring the midfield to get close to Eriksen and stop him causing problems. RB Leipzig’s Yussef Poulson is a handful up front a names such as Kasper Schmeichel and Andreas Christenson will be familiar to England fans.

The kit:

Nike have released a number of country’s new kits prior to the Nations League fixtures and England are no different. The minimalistic home design and the blue patterned away kit pictured below may go down as classics, particularly if England are successful at the Euros.

England’s new home kit (left) and away kit (right)

The Nations League

The Nations League was created with the intention of countries playing less meaningful friendlies, and could be considered a success after its maiden competition which culminated in a four team tournament last summer. The ability to qualify for the Euros through the Nations League made it a little complicated and at times difficult to follow but the general consensus is most football fans would rather watch their country play a competitive game against a country at a similar level than a friendly which becomes tiresome after several changes for each side in the second half.

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Ronald’s revolution? How Koeman can save Barcelona

For Barcelona, a season that started with Messi addressing the Barcelona fans and promising to do all they could to bring the Champions League trophy back to the Camp Nou ended in embarrassment. No La Liga trophy, no Copa del Rey trophy and the complete embarrassment of an 8-2 defeat to Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter-final. While the nature of the defeat came as a shock, the outcome of the fixture did not. This was merely the culmination of an ageing squad that have lost their direction and a number of failures in the transfer market. The issues are deep-rooted and things must change if the glory days are to return for the Catalan club. On the face of it, it is a bad season. In reality, if the direction isn’t changed fast this could be the first of many, especially if talisman Lionel Messi is to desert the club to which he has given so much.

In the aftermath of the Bayern Munich defeat, Quique Setién lost his job, something that was always likely to happen unless he delivered the trophy. Eric Abidal’s departure as sporting director soon followed. The man chosen to replace Setién is a man that knows Barcelona very well, having made 264 appearances for the club. Dutchman Ronald Koeman has taken the reigns, with the job coming perhaps slightly too early for Xavi, the man seemingly earmarked for the job in the near future. Make no mistake about it, this is a rebuilding job. This may be one of the reasons Koeman was chosen, with his recent rebuild of the Dutch national team from international football wilderness to a force to be reckoned with again an impressive feat. Spanish fans are notoriously hard to please and Barcelona fans are no different. The fact that Koeman was the man who scored the goal that won Barca their first ever European trophy will give him some breathing room but should results not follow the fans will soon turn.

Koeman smashes home the winner in the 1992 European Cup final

Further restructuring may follow at board level and this will no doubt impact the players that are pursued in the transfer window but Koeman will be looking to add players he trusts to put the building blocks of his rebuild in place. For this reason he may look to players he has coached for the Dutch national side, while also looking to bring the best out of Frenkie de Jong. Last season was difficult for De Jong, a player so young thrust into a Barcelona midfield. He held his own but perhaps didn’t display the kind of performances he was brought in for. Koeman has favoured De Jong in the pivot role for the Netherlands and may look to do the same at Barca, potentially using him to phase out the ageing Sergio Busquets. Koeman could opt for the famously Dutch 4-3-3 formation but alternatively he could favour a 4-2-3-1 to get the best out of a number of players. This could allow De Jong to play a double pivot with Sergio Busquets or new signing Miralem Pjanic who was effectively swapped for the much younger Arthur much to the dismay of the Barca faithful.

Gini Wijnaldum epitomises reliability and, with his future unclear at Liverpool, he could be a shrewd piece of business. His contract is coming to its end so he wouldn’t be expensive which makes it a low-risk signing and Koeman knows him well. He may not start should he join but would add depth to a frighteningly shallow squad. There has also already been talk of Koeman considering Memphis Depay to join his front line and he would be sure to be keen to link up with his former manager and prove himself at a club like Barcelona after his ill-fated spell at Manchester United. The links with Dutch players may just be media frenzy highlighting Koeman’s Dutch links but there is sure to be some truth to Koeman wanting to bring in players he knows he can trust and Barca could do far worse than Wijnaldum and Depay even if neither would be guaranteed starters.

The change in approach could offer a lifeline to a number of players. Phillipe Coutinho’s time at Barcelona so far has been disappointing, but not necessarily through any fault of his own. Loaned to Bayern Munich last season and stuck on the left wing at Barca the season before, could Koeman bring the Brazilian in from the cold and make him a key component of his side? His two goal performance off the bench against Barca for Bayern showed he has qualities they lack, with goals from midfield hard to come by at Barca. Ousmane Dembele could also be given a lifeline and add the pace that Barca so desperately craved on a number of occasions last season. It’s hard to argue that Antoine Griezmann had a positive debut season at Barca, finding himself on the bench more often than not towards the end of the season but he was also never utilised in the correct way by Setién. Griezmann was often stuck on the left, similarly to Coutinho, which isn’t a position he thrives in. With Suarez’ contract set to be terminated, Koeman could play Griezmann centrally and hope that he flourishes with the added responsibility. Coutinho, Dembele and Griezmann cost a combined £362 million yet played a supporting role, or no role at all in Coutinho’s case, last season. Surely the Barca board would be keen to see these players come good, especially as they are highly unlikely to recoup the fee paid for any of the three. Koeman could save the club a lot of money should he be able to find a way to get the best out of the three.

Could Coutinho be brought in from the cold?

If anyone can carry a team on his own it’s Lionel Messi. However, all too often last season it appeared that if Messi wasn’t to produce some magic there was no other way that Barca could win. This over reliance on Messi must be addressed, especially as he is now 33. He often appeared visibly stressed last season as the pressure seemed to weigh heavily on his shoulders. Rumours of the Argentinian looking to move elsewhere crop up every couple of seasons but perhaps this time there is the most truth to them. The latest reports are that he has informed the Barcelona board that he wishes to activate a clause in his contract that allows him to leave for free at the end of the 2019/20 season, although the Barca board are said to dispute this clause. Koeman must persuade Messi that he can transform the club’s fortunes or face the very real risk of losing him. Will a 33 year-old Messi commit to a rebuild operation when an exit would leave the world’s biggest clubs all scrambling for his services? The unthinkable could be set to happen and we could finally see Lionel Messi play for someone other than Barcelona.

To fund transfers Barca will have to remove the deadwood in their squad and, in truth, many of these players have more than outstayed their welcome. Arturo Vidal looked a shadow of the player he once was in the defeat to Bayern and will surely be moved on. Sergi Roberto isn’t a player of Barcelona quality and at 28 now he is no longer a prospect so must be moved on. Sergio Busquets has been phenomenal for Barcelona for the best part of a decade but his powers are waining. However, he will be a good player to have in the squad. Luis Suarez will be allowed to leave. Martin Braithwaite will be sold after signing in bizarre circumstances with Barca being granted permission to make an emergency signing outside of the transfer window. Samuel Umtiti could be sold and Nelson Semedo could join him as the right back has yet to convince at Barca, while Ivan Rakitic is sure to be moved on too.

Barcelona could raid their former manager Pep Guardiola for young centre back Eric García and full back Joao Cancelo to freshen up their sluggish back-line. In attack, 17 year-old Ansu Fati can provide cover for Ousmane Dembele as he continues his development.

Koeman’s philosophy is in keeping with Barcelona’s and he will look to play attractive football. The Dutchman is the highest scoring defender of all time and his managerial approach reflects his playing days. The football under Setién wasn’t what fans had become accustomed to at Barcelona, with his often-deployed rigid 4-4-2 a far cry from the all conquering tiki-taka of the Guardiola era. The first task will be to regain the La Liga crown from Real Madrid and European glory may have to wait, although it won’t be allowed to wait for long. The board will have to back Koeman if they want results and cannot afford to view him as a stop-gap until Xavi is deemed ready. The recruitment mistakes of the recent past must be learned from if this rebuild is to have more success than the last and the bizarre trend of signing players aged 30 and above is unsustainable.

Below is the line-up that Koeman could opt for should he sign his targets and Messi does end up staying at the club. This could be the way to get the best out of his key players and has a far more attacking look to it than Setién’s line-ups which Barca fans had grown so tired of. The pace of Dembele gives them another dimension although he would prefer to play from the right. Coutinho and the front three would be given more freedom from the double pivot of De Jong and Pjanic or Busquets and the bench has options that can make a difference which Barca have inexplicably lacked so much in recent times.

Subs: Neto, García, Firpo, Busquets, Wijnaldum, Depay, Fati
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Pep talk: Could Manchester City really sack Guardiola?

Manchester City’s 3-1 loss to Lyon means that Pep Guardiola has crashed out of the Champions League at the quarter-final stage in each of his four campaigns in the competition with City, spending £703 million in the process. This from the man who was brought in to conquer Europe with City and give owner Sheikh Mansour the title he so desperately craves. It may seem absurd to say it, but could it be time for City to part ways with Guardiola?

There is no denying the way that Guardiola has transformed City and, arguably, the English game. When he first came to England his style was written off as impossible to implement in England. Many said you can’t play the tika-taka way; it’s too fast in England, it’s too physical. In the first season it was tough. He adopted a squad who were not used to playing this way and some big calls were made, namely instantly replacing number one ‘keeper Joe Hart with Claudio Bravo. City finished the season with no trophies, making this the first trophy-less season of Guardiola’s managerial career, and finished 3rd in the league. However, the building blocks were put in place.

The 2017/18 season City were imperious domestically. They completed a domestic double and reached 100 points in the Premier League, scoring 106 goals in the process. Ederson had come in to replace the ageing Bravo and Kyle Walker and Benjamin Mendy brought pace and dynamism to the full-back areas, although Olexandr Zinchenko and Fabian Delph deputised for Mendy for the majority of the season due to his injury struggles. The only blip in their season; a quarter-final exit to Liverpool in the Champions League. A great season undoubtedly, but the holy grail not even close to being lifted.

City celebrate winning the 2017/18 Premier League

2018/19 saw City conquer domestically again, this time completing a domestic treble. They were to meet another domestic rival in the Champions League quarter-final in Tottenham. Same outcome. A pattern emerging. A fine domestic season once more saw City receive plaudits but the desire for European success was growing.

The format of the Champions League this year, a one-legged knockout tournament, meant many tipped City for the trophy. They could not be stung by the away goals rule which had haunted them against Monaco and Spurs previously. Their squad depth meant they could manage the dense schedule. Many saw Bayern Munich as the only threat to their first Champions League trophy. Guardiola refused to be drawn into this prior to the game against Lyon on Saturday night stating that they had to get past the French club first and that they should not be underestimated. But by trying to counter Lyon’s formation, did Guardiola give them too much respect? With a team of City’s ability, should he not have trusted his side to win the game playing to their strengths? In losing 3-1, it appears Pep may have overthought a big game once again.

Guardiola is known to have a tendency to try and outwit his opposing manager in big games. Perhaps throw a curveball with his formation or the players selected so that the opposition cannot have prepared for it. However, was matching Lyon’s 3-5-2 formation necessary? By doing this Guardiola left out the creativity of Riyad Mahrez, Bernardo Silva, David Silva and Phil Foden, and it showed. City struggled to score against a Lyon side that finished 7th in France, although their league season was ended early. Many will blame Sterling for his open goal miss, and it was an inexplicable miss, but City should not have been 2-1 down in the 85th minute in this game.

This loss means that City have only won one trophy this season, the Carabao Cup, commonly thought of as the lesser of all the trophies available. They were favourites to win the FA Cup and lost in the semi-final to an Arsenal side managed by Pep’s apprentice, Mikel Arteta. They were league favourites at the start of the season and weren’t able to lay a glove on Liverpool to defend their crown. They were favourites to win the Champions League, with Bayern seen as the only threat, and they crashed out to Lyon. With all things considered, many will see this season as a huge failure for Guardiola.

It is important to reiterate what Pep has done for City. The style of play is perhaps the greatest the Premier League has ever seen. He has taken players such as Raheem Sterling to new heights, scoring goals for fun. Despite this, there are blots against his name. He was brought in to bring the Champions League trophy to the Etihad. He has won the majority of trophies available domestically, but his predecessors Manuel Pelligrini and Roberto Mancini also won domestic titles and they didn’t spend as much in the process. In Pelligrini’s final season, City narrowly lost in the Champions League semi-finals to Real Madrid. City replaced him because they wanted to win the competition and yet Guardiola hasn’t reached the same stage in the competition after four attempts. In fact, Guardiola hasn’t won the competition since 2011. Nine years of managing three of the world’s biggest clubs and a nine year drought from the biggest club trophy of them all.

The biggest shock of last summer regarding Manchester City was their failure to replace outgoing club legend and captain Vincent Kompany. A man of Kompany’s stature at the club would always have been very tough to replace but to not replace him at all was incredibly naive. Perhaps it was not for want of trying but City appeared satisfied that they could challenge without finding a replacement for the Belgian. Aymeric Laporte’s injury could not have been predicted but the blow could have been softened had City had the depth. Due to a lack of faith in both John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi, Fernandinho dropped to centre-back. Eric García featured towards the end of the season also.

City never replaced captain Vincent Kompany after he left to join Anderlecht

It is no doubt that it has been defensive frailties that have cost City this season and the defeat to Lyon exposed this further. How can a side that have spent £374 million on defenders since Guardiola arrived be so porous at the back?

As the saying goes, all good things come to an end. Could this be the end of City and Guardiola? Will the board at City continue to throw money at Guardiola to win the Champions League or will they grow tired of the lack of results in Europe? This was undoubtedly City’s greatest chance so far of lifting the trophy and to not have done so will hurt all at City in the coming months. They will be relieved that their appeal over their two-season European ban was successful so they will get another crack at the whip next season but will they learn from their mistakes. Can the football mastermind that is Pep Guardiola resist the urge to tamper with his side which, when it pays off makes him look so brilliant, but when it doesn’t causes so much scrutiny. Will Guardiola get the chance to dust himself down and try again? He has said himself that his methods push his players to the limit and burn players out after a few seasons and perhaps this point has come at City.

There is also the question of whether Guardiola has the appetite to start the quest for European glory at City once again and the real possibility that he could walk away from the challenge. The wait for City to win the Champions League goes on and domestic glory alone may not be enough anymore, something that ten years ago would have sounded so far from reality for the blue side of Manchester but is now a very real situation.

Prediction: Every Premier League line up predicted for the 2020/21 season. Part 2.

As with part one, the following aims to predict the starting eleven and final league position of the remaining ten Premier League clubs, including play-off winners Fulham, ahead of the 2020/21 season. Confirmed signings, transfer rumours and feasible transfers are all taken into consideration to make these predictions. The final predicted league table concludes the article.

Manchester City

One of the major reasons for Manchester City’s failed defence of their league title last season was their frailties in defence. Not replacing club legend Vincent Kompany proved a very costly mistake for City, especially when Aymeric Laporte struggled with injuries. It is no secret that Pep Guardiola has spent a huge sum of money on defenders since joining the club, particularly on full-backs, but he is set to increase this tally further this summer.

Nathan Ake has joined for a reported £43m but it remains to be seen if City see him as first choice or cover for Laporte as Ake is also a left-sided centre back. Links with Kalidou Koulibaly refuse to go away and a defensive partnership of Laporte and Koulibaly with Ake for cover, is sure to be far less generous to opposition strikers.

In the attacking areas it is one in one out so far with Leroy Sane joining Bayern Munich and City replacing him with promising young winger Feran Torres from Valencia. Another player signed from Valencia, David Silva, will leave the club once their Champions League campaign is over. Silva has been a magician for City for ten years and deserves all the plaudits he has been receiving in the last weeks of the season. Guardiola’s next step will be vital. Does he look to the transfer window to replace Silva or does he place a huge amount of faith in 20 year-old Phil Foden who many feel is the ready-made heir to Silva’s throne. Should he sign a player in this position it could be damning for Foden who is sure to be determined to play far more next season.

Predicted finish: 1st

Manchester United

Manchester United’s strong finish to the season will leave fans very excited for the new season to start. Although they still have their Europa League campaign to navigate, where they are sure to fancy their chances. The signing of Bruno Fernandes in January has proven to be inspired, with eight goals and seven assists in 14 league appearances a remarkable return. His impact on the players around him is perhaps more impressive than his returns. He has demonstrated real leadership qualities and his high demands of the players around him seemed to drive United on in their successful push for a top four finish.

United’s transfer policy has improved dramatically in the last couple of transfer windows. They have been going for young, often British players, whose peaks are ahead of them and also have adopted a quality over quantity approach. This approach means that there may not be a huge amount of business for United this summer but there may be some big business.

Their very public pursuit of Borussia Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho is evidence of this and looks set to be the transfer saga of the summer. £120m is the rumoured fee and the two clubs are reportedly close to agreeing on the transfer, with the instalments of the fee said to be the only stumbling block. The player wants the move and would be a huge statement from the red side of Manchester. Sancho scored 17 goals and recorded 16 assists in the Bundesliga last season and would start on the right of a potent front three. This would also take some pressure off of young Mason Greenwood, who after a phenomenal breakthrough season needs careful management to aid his development. Finally the future looks bright at Old Trafford.

Predicted finish: 3rd

Newcastle United

Much of what Newcastle do this summer will depend on whether their proposed takeover goes through with the Premier League’s recent rejection of the takeover bid the latest twist in a seemingly ever-changing saga.

Newcastle were solid under Steve Bruce last season, as they had been under Rafa Benitez the season before. However, fans will be hoping for more excitement with a pragmatic approach adopted perhaps too often. Most things good that Newcastle do goes through either Allan Saint-Maximin or Miguel Almiron and the Magpies will be desperate to keep them both, however, with Saint-Maximin’s flair a number of clubs are said to be interested.

Newcastle only managed 38 goals in the league last season and so desperately need to sign a striker. Relegated Bournemouth’s Callum Wilson could be the answer, with his price tag due to drop as a result of their relegation and he is proven in the Premier League. Danny Rose and Valentino Lazaro may make their loans last season permanent this summer and Newcastle have also been linked with Leicester’s Demarai Gray who’s career has stagnated with starts hard to come by.

Predicted finish: 16th

Sheffield United

Chris Wilder has worked wonders with his Sheffield United squad with his unique playing style and demanding nature. He has not minced his words previously when discussing his players, stating on a number of occasions that his players are League One and Championship players playing in the Premier League and as a result hard work is the bare minimum. He’ll be keen to keep the core of his squad together and not make too many signings to risk upsetting the balance but he may be looking to add some quality to the battle-hardened side.

John Swift is one player who has been linked with the Blades and his creativity in midfield would be welcomed with Sander Berge brought in in January for similar reasons. If this move happens it will be intriguing to see who loses their place, with Oliver Norwood having an impressive season at the base of the midfield and John Fleck sure to remain a starter. It may be that Swift will have to bide his time to get into the starting eleven. In goal, Sheffield United will be hoping to secure the services of Dean Henderson on loan from Manchester United for the third season in a row although the uncertainty surrounding David De Gea’s form may be problematic.

Predicted finish: 13th

Southampton

Southampton stuck by manager Ralph Hasenhuttl when many clubs wouldn’t have and they have reaped the rewards for doing so. Southampton finished the season in 11th which few could have predicted after the 0-9 drubbing they received at home to Leicester in October. Hassenhuttl reverted to his favoured 4222 formation that he made popular at RB Leipzig and tampered with his starting eleven less and the turnaround soon followed. Although, it wasn’t until after the lockdown that their form really made people take notice, losing one of their nine games.

Contract rebel Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg is set to leave the Saints after being stripped of the captaincy with Tottenham his rumoured destination. However, Oriol Romeu stepped up to the plate and delivered some stellar performances alongside new captain James Ward-Prowes in the final few games of the season. However, central midfield is an area Southampton are short in and rumours of a move for Schalke’s Weston McKennie are gathering momentum. The USA international would be a fine addition to the midfield and it would be expected he would take Romeu’s place. Kyle Walker-Peters impressed on loan and should sign permanently while Real Valladoid centre back Mohammed Salisu is to be announced shortly. After failing to score for the majority of the season, Che Adams’ flurry of goals at the end of the campaign may persuade Southampton that they do not need any new recruits up front.

Predicted finish: 10th

Tottenham Hotspur

Jose Mourinho will be judged on what he can do this season once he has a pre-season and transfer window under his belt. However, chairman Daniel Levy is not set to loosen the purse strings too much this summer and Spurs may have to make some sales to generate funds.

Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg will join the midfield and his defensive abilities should allow more creative players like Giovani Lo Celso,Tanguy N’dombele and Dele Alli to have more freedom. Norwich’s Max Aaron’s is a long term target at right back to replace the rash Serge Aurier and Spurs may also be on the hunt for a left back. A back up striker for Harry Kane seems likely too as youngster Troy Parrot has been allowed to join Millwall on loan and Kane’s recent injury record a worry. Troy Deeney has been linked but this seems unlikely. Brentford’s Ollie Watkins could be a better option following their play-off final defeat although he may be looking for guaranteed playing time rather than playing second fiddle to Kane. The £18m buy-out clause seems a fair price for someone with his potential.

Predicted finish: 6th

West Bromich Albion

West Brom are arguably the definition of a yo-yo club, frequently swapping the Championship for the Premier League and vice versa in recent history. They secured promotion finishing runners-up to Leeds and stumbled across the line, with Brentford failing to capitalise on opportunities to overtake them.

Signings will be crucial if West Brom are to stay in the division and a positive start would be to turn the loans of Grady Diangana and Filip Krovinović into permanent deals following the signing of on-loan Matheus Pereira in January. The three were influential in getting West Brom promoted and seem to be keen on making the switch permanently. The Baggies never settled on a striker throughout the last campaign with Charlie Austin, Kenneth Zohore and Hal Robson-Kanu never making the spot their own so a new striker is essential. One striker they have been linked with is Fenerbache forward Vedat Muriqi who has a huge physical presence and an eye for goal with the Kosovo international netting 15 goals in the league this season.

Winston Reid hasn’t been a regular at West Ham for a while now and would be a solid addition to the back line while Will Hughes could add some guile to the midfield.

Predicted finish: 20th

West Ham United

As is all too often the case at West Ham, a season that started with ambitions of Europe ended in a relegation battle. Manuel Pelligrini was sacked in December and replaced by David Moyes for his second spell in charge in the space of 18 months. When Moyes took over the club were one point above the relegation zone and he guided them to a 16th placed finish.

West Ham’s survival owed much to the post-lockdown form of Michail Antonio, with the utility man scoring eight goals and providing one assist in this period. He will expect to continue up front given his form but West Ham are likely to be on the lookout for another striker to carry some of the burden, especially as Sebastien Haller has struggled. Tomas Soucek also turned in a number of fine performances in midfield following his January loan from Sparta Prague and his permanent signing is very good business. Charlie Taylor could come in at left back and West Ham are set to raid the championship for QPR’s Eberechi Eze and Brentford’s Said Benrahma to improve their options in attacking areas, particularly as they are set to sell Felipe Anderson. They could also try and prize Ben Godfrey from Norwich to sure up their back line.

Predicted finish: 11th

Wolverhampton Wanderers

Wolves’ 2019/2020 campaign still hasn’t finished with their Europa League commitments taking their season to over a year long due to the qualification rounds in July last year. With this in mind the fact that they finished 7th in the league is testament to their players and management, especially when you consider how small their squad is.

For Wolves the key will be keeping hold of their prized assets, namely Raul Jiminez, Adama Traore and Ruben Neves. If they can keep theses players together then they will be in a strong position and with a few additions could really push the big clubs once more. Allan Saint-Maximin is one name that has been linked with Wolves and his dynamic playing style would fit well at Molineux, however he may be seen as a potential Traore replacement should he leave the club. If this is the case expect Diogo Jota to play alongside Jiminez and Saint-Maximin.

Predicted finish: 7th

Fulham

Fulham returned to the Premier League at the first time of asking thanks to a 2-1 play-off final win over Brentford and they owe much of this to the work of rookie manager Scott Parker. Having arguably the best striker in the division in Aleksandar Mitrovic also helped and he will be sure to lead the line for Fulham in a season where survival has to be the only aim. Fulham spent over £100m on transfers following their last promotion to the Premier League and the board have promised the club will not make the same mistakes again. They are keen for signings to not alter the team spirit as they did before.

With this in mind Fulham’s business is likely to be more considered and involve players with Premier League experience. In defence Timothy Fosu-Mensah looks destined to leave Manchester United and could partner Michael Hector. Nathaniel Clyne has been very unfortunate with injuries and will be desperate to get his career back on track so a move to Fulham could be beneficial for all parties. Harrison Reed could sign permanently from Southampton and Ryan Fraser could join on a free after interest from elsewhere appears to have dried up somewhat.

Predicted finish: 19th

Predicted final Premier League Table

Prediction: Every Premier League line up predicted for the 2020/21 season. Part 1.

Although the Premier League season has only just finished and the European competitions are set to be played in a congested format through August, Premier League sides’ attention will have already turned to next season. The season is scheduled to start on the 12th September, giving sides just a matter of weeks to alter their squads and prepare for the new season. With that in mind, the following is the potential starting line ups for each Premier League side for the start of the 2020/21 season with transfer rumours and transfers already completed taken into consideration along with players that would appear suitable and feasible for each club. Part one of this looks at half the teams with the second part covering the remaining ten sides, including the Championship play-off winner.

Arsenal

Mikel Arteta may not have a huge budget to work with so Arsenal will have to be clever in the market this summer. This will mean a focus in key areas, namely an enforcer in central midfield with the Gunners yet again linked with Atlético Madrid’s Thomas Partey. Atléti are rumoured to be keen on Alexander Lacazette which could see a potential swap deal on the cards. Elsewhere Phillipe Coutinho is rumoured to be keen on a Premier League return and could be a shrewd addition, most likely on loan. Dani Ceballos is set to extend his loan from Real Madrid for another season and William Saliba will finally link up with his new team mates after a successful season at St Étienne.

Predicted finish: 5th

Aston Villa

The fact that Aston Villa survived on the final day of the 2019/20 season will give them hope of keeping their captain and talisman Jack Grealish. This, coupled with a reported price tag of up to £80m, may be enough to prepare for next season with their local hero.

With or without Grealish, the Villa squad needs major improvements and defence is likely to be a key area after shipping 67 goals last season. Shane Duffy has fallen down the pecking order at Brighton and would be a solid addition to the back line and Matty Cash may be ready for a Premier League move after an impressive season at right back for Nottingham Forest. Will Hughes could add some class to midfield following his relegation with Watford and may be available at a low price. Villa are likely to be on the lookout for another striker and a winger but should Grealish leave then expect a number of new arrivals at Villa Park.

Predicted finish: 18th

Brighton

Brighton earned plaudits for their improved style of play last season and Graham Potter will be hoping that with some new additions they will be able to build on this. Getting Adam Lallana on a free transfer could be very good business and with his technical ability he should slot in seamlessly at his new club. Ainsley Maitland-Niles has been linked with a move to the south coast as he seeks more game time and Brighton are unlikely to send young talent Ben White on loan again with the Englishman playing a pivotal role in Leeds returning to the Premier League. Up front, Maupay will be expected to lead the line again after an impressive debut season in England’s top tier.

Predicted finish: 12th

Burnley

Sean Dyche worked wonders again last season by guiding Burnley to a 10th place finish but appears to be growing tired of the limitations of his transfer budget. A problem exemplified by the lack of options once Jeff Hendrick and Aaron Lennon’s contracts weren’t extended until the end of the season following lockdown. It will be intriguing to see if the Burnley board provide Dyche with more funds to reward his efforts or have another low-key transfer window and risk pushing Dyche away and with that potentially their Premier League status.

Jose Mourinho is keen to send Oliver Skipp out on loan to aid his development and Burnley have reportedly expressed interest in the player Mourinho has tipped to be Spurs’ future. Charlie Taylor has been linked with a move and should this materialise Erik Pieters is likely to replace him at left back. At right back Dyche is said to be keen on Derby County’s Jayden Bogle who has had an impressive season in the Championship at just 20 years-old. Other than this Burnley’s business is likely to be about providing greater squad depth and trying to keep hold of winger Dwight McNeil whose consistently impressive performances will have a number of clubs on alert.

Predicted finish: 15th

Chelsea

Following the end of the their transfer ban Chelsea have completed some big business early. Timo Werner and Hakim Ziyech will join the squad ahead of the new season and the rumour mill is in full flow for more. Goalkeeper is a crucial area to strengthen. Frank Lampard appears to have grown tired of Kepa Arrizabalaga’s frequent costly errors despite him being the world’s most expensive goalkeeper and Willy Cabellero is a reliable back up keeper but at 38 Chelsea must look to the future. Links with Jan Oblak seem unlikely due to his huge release clause so a move for Ajax stopper André Onana could be a cheaper option.

Elsewhere, a move for Ben Chilwell could help solve the problem at left back. Chelsea are also rumoured to be the front runners for Bayer Leverkusen sensation Kai Havertz and it would be interesting to see how Lampard can accommodate all his top players should this move happen.

Predicted finish: 4th

Crystal Palace

It appears that Roy Hodgson and Wilfried Zaha’s relationship has grown strained due to Zaha’s desire to leave and Palace playing hardball. It is rumoured that Zaha will be allowed to leave if the price is right and the line up has been predicted on that basis.

They have already acquired Nathan Ferguson following the expiration of his contract at West Brom and may have to look to relegated players to strengthen. Ismaila Sarr could provide the spark to replace Zaha while Abdoulaye Doucoure would be a strong addition to the midfield and fits Hodgson’s preference of experienced players well. Goals have been hard to come by for Palace in recent seasons and the purchase of Michy Batshuayi, whose Chelsea career looks over, could help reduce this problem. He previously had a loan spell at Palace in 2019, where he bagged five goals in 11 league games, and may fancy a stay in London.

Predicted finish: 17th

Everton

Carlo Ancelotti saw signs of improvement from his Everton side during his first few months as manager but their season fizzled out with little to play for. A lack of squad depth was exposed and Ancelotti is sure to be looking for a number of signings to make the team his own. Ancelotti has favoured a 442 formation in his time at Everton and it will be interesting to see if he will stick with this.

In defence Jean-Clair Todibo is said to be gaining interest from the Toffees and Barcelona are likely to sell. Jonjoe Kenny could displace Seamus Coleman at right back following a successful year on loan at Schalke as Coleman’s recent performances have not been what fans have become accustomed to seeing from him. The signing of Allan from Ancelotti’s former club Napoli would add much needed steel in central midfield while Zaha could be the big money signing that Everton need to support Richarlison and Calvert-Lewin. Josh King is also likely to be looking to stay in the Premier League and could play on the left or up front in a very attacking line up.

Predicted finish: 8th

Leeds United

Marcelo Bielsa has guided Leeds back to the Premier League after a 16 year wait and his fascinating style of play could be a breath of fresh air in the Premier League. His meticulous preparation and unconventional tactics make Leeds an exciting watch and with a few additions they could cause some upsets.

With Brighton unlikely to loan out Ben White again and Gaeton Berardi suffering an injury that will mean he misses the entirety of the new season Leeds need a centre back. Gonzalo Montiel, who currently plies his trade at River Plate could be the solution with the 24 year-old reported to be valued at £15m by his employers. He can also play right-back which will be useful as Bielsa is known to like versatile players who can play in a number of positions and systems. In midfield, Leeds academy product Fabian Delph could return to add experience after an injury-struck season with Everton. Emiliano Buendia would be an acquisition of real quality but Leeds are sure to have a number of rivals if they are to move for the Argentinian.

Patrick Bamford scored 16 goals in 45 Championship games last season which is not the most fruitful of returns when playing for the eventual league winners. He has a habit of spurning big opportunities and Leeds are likely to be looking for more fire power with a move for relegated Espanyol’s Raul De Tomàs potentially on the cards. The 25 year-old Spaniard only signed for the club in January and was the club’s record signing but is unlikely to be playing in Spain’s second division come the start of the new season.

Predicted finish: 14th

Leicester City

Brendan Rodgers’ side looked as though they were going to beat the odds yet again and secure a Champions League spot but a dismal end to the season saw them surrender a 14 point lead over Manchester United to drop to 5th. Additions will be crucial, especially with the added games that come with being in the Europa League and their lack of depth was highlighted by a number of injuries towards the end of the season. Ben Chilwell may be sold and will need to be replaced. Ajax’s Nicolas Tagliafico has been linked with a Premier League move for a while now and Leicester could look to him as Chilwell’s replacement.

Further up the pitch, Leicester could be set to raid the relegated clubs with moves for Norwich’s Todd Cantwell and Bournemouth’s David Brooks both possible options. Both will add creativity to a midfield already packed with ability and provide Rodgers with options in the wide areas with Harvey Barnes likely to also be pushing to start. Jamie Vardy will be leading the line once more following his golden boot winning season and shows no sign of slowing at 33 years of age. However, another striker could be brought in to cope with the busier fixture schedule as well as more game time for Kelechi Iheanacho who has played well when paired with Vardy.

Predicted finish: 9th

Liverpool

After storming to the title Liverpool will be looking to repeat the feat next season. It is likely that the teams below them will all strengthen and it would come as a surprise if they do not have more competition next season. After cooling their long-standing interest in Timo Werner who has gone to Chelsea, it is unlikely to be a window where any major dealings are done regarding the champions.

It could be the season that Naby Keira cements himself in the midfield three after showing signs of improvement and the front three picks itself as long as they are fit. However, with Dejan Lovren joining Zenit St Petersburg and the expiration of Adam Lallana’s contract coupled with the likely exit of rotation players such as Xherdan Shaqiri and cult-hero Divock Origi, Liverpool will have to find replacements to push their starting eleven. Although one player that would be almost guaranteed to start would be Thiago Alcantara who has been linked with a move to Liverpool as he is rumoured to want a fresh challenge. Rhian Brewster may be given the opportunity to become RobertoFirmino’s understudy after a successful January loan to Swansea with 11 goals in 22 games which saw Swansea sneak into the play-off places.

Predicted finish: 2nd

Joshua Zirkee: The catalyst of Bayern Munich’s Bundesliga title

As the celebrations of Bayern Munich’s eighth consecutive Bundesliga title start to die down there will be many who will be reflecting on the key men and the key moments that secured the title. Many will think of the prolific rate of Robert Lewandoski’s scoring, or Thomas Muller breaking the Bundesliga assists record, Alphonso Davies moving seamlessly to become arguably the best left-back in the league, Neuer rediscovering his from in goal. However, one player’s impact on the title returning to Munich once more that should not underestimated is 19 year-old Joshua Zirkee.

The 6’4 Dutch striker was relatively unknown before the start of this season, but he burst onto the scene on the 18th December 2019 by scoring the winner against SC Freiburg in the 92nd minute. All the more remarkable as he had come on in the 90th minute and this was his first touch for the club. This was at a stage in the season when Bayern were really struggling in the league, just over a month after Niko Kovac had lost his job and sitting in fifth in the table.

Zirkee followed up his heroics at Freiburg just three days later. At home to Wolfsburg, Bayern were struggling to clinch a winner and the game was stuck at 0-0. Joshua Zirkee was introduced in the 83rd minute, he scored in the 85th. Once again it had taken Zirkee just two minutes to find the net. As he had done three days earlier, Gnabry then secured the win minutes later but it was Zirkee who had saved Bayern. Just 18 at the time, Zirkee was deciding games for the biggest club in Germany before he had even scored for the reserve side.

Zirkee (right) netting against Wolfsburg.

Oddly, Zirkee then found minutes hard to come by; an unused substitute for the following five league fixtures despite Bayern having strong leads in a number of the games. Following Lewandowski’s injury in the Champions League win away at Chelsea, Zirkee was given a starting role against Hoffenheim in which he netted again and he was to score one more Bundesliga goal before the season drew to a close, breaking the deadlock at home to Borussia Mönchengladbach with Robert Lewandowski suspended. This would leave his record for the season as four goals in nine Bundesliga appearances.

Had it not been for the impact of Covid-19 and the break in football around the world Zirkee may well have seen himself presented with an opportunity to lead the line in the Champions League following Lewandowski’s injury. However, this wasn’t to be as the Champions League was stopped prior to the second leg against Chelsea and now that Lewandowski is fit and firing again it’s hard to envisage Zirkee getting an opportunity in the revised World Cup style format of the competition to be played out in August. As it is Zirkee has made one Champions League appearance, coming on late at home to Tottenham in the group stage.

The impact of Hans Flick after replacing Niko Kovac was huge. He brought confidence back and put trust in key players such as Thomas Muller who repaid his faith by becoming Bayern’s serial provider with his assists. Following their post-lockdown form many have tipped Bayern to win the Champions League, although their domestic season ending a month before the Champions League mini-tournament begins could be costly. Zirkee’s impact on the turn in their fortunes cannot be understated however, despite from an outsiders point of view it could appear his influence was limited. The winning goals over Freiburg and Wolfsburg really kick-started Bayern’s push for the league title under Flick, with the Bavarian club winning all but one game between then and the end of the season, a 0-0 draw with RB Leipzig.

The master and the apprentice.

Bayern Munich will be hoping that Zirkee can continue his development and be the man who one day is tasked with the seemingly impossible role of replacing the goals of Robert Lewandowski. With the Pole 32 in August and showing no signs of slowing having broken his own Bundesliga goals in a season by a non-German record, 34 goals in 31 games, Zirkee has time on his side to continue his development and will be sure to learn invaluable lessons from Lewandowski. This will also be very good news for Ronald Koeman and the Netherlands who have never found a suitable replacement since the retirement of Robin Van Persie, with a drought of top quality Dutch strikers. The next few seasons will be crucial in Joshua Zirkee’s development and he will be hoping to follow in the footsteps of fellow Dutchman Arjen Robben to become a Bayern legend.

The key men in the Premier League race for survival

The long anticipated return of Premier League football finally comes to end on Wednesday 17th June with a double header of Aston Villa at home to Sheffield United and Arsenal travelling to play Manchester City. These fixtures being played ensure every side in the Premier League will have played the same amount of games going into the weekend, where the crowded fixture list to end the season gets into full swing. While the title is all but sealed for Liverpool, the league is by no means going to fizzle out to a conclusion. There’s the Champions League spots to fight for but also Premier League survival, a race with at least six clubs involved, with others who could get dragged into the battle. This article focuses on each of the bottom six clubs’ key player for the remainder of the season in their quest to avoid relegation.

Brighton and Hove Albion

Position: 15th

Key man: Neal Maupay

Maupay signed from Brentford in the summer and has impressed in his debut season in the Premier League, notching eight goals and providing two assists in his 28 appearances. He has shown he can handle responsibility by taking on the mantle of The Seagulls main goal scorer from the ageing Glenn Murray which bodes well for the 23 year-old to fire Brighton to safety.

England international Lewis Dunk will also have a key role to play marshalling the Brighton defence. Brighton have the best defensive record of the bottom six clubs and they will need this to continue to provide Maupay the springboard to fire them to safety. Brighton currently sit two points clear of the Premier League relegation zone with nine games left to play and their goal difference may prove vital to their chances of survival, effectively giving them an extra point on their rivals.

West Ham United

Position: 16th

Key man: Michail Antonio

For the last few years at West Ham every season has started with huge optimism with fans dreaming of a push for European places before having to settle for another season towards the wrong end of the table. This season is no different with David Moyes brought in for his second spell in charge following the departure of Manuel Pelligrini, with West Ham languishing in 17th with many players displaying uninspired performances. One man who never lets his side down is Michail Antonio and, had he not been injured for much of the first half of the season, West Ham may have found themselves in a far more favourable position going into the home straight of the season. His blend of pace and power mean he is a nuisance to defenders and when he’s in form he can run teams ragged. His versatility is also a major asset, as he is able to play anywhere from right back to striker.

David Moyes has utilised Antonio as a striker in the four games prior to Covid-19 halting play and it is here that he can be most effective for West Ham, as a lone striker or paired with Haller whose form has dipped horribly since his early season promise. Antonio has only managed two goals and two assists in an injury hit season but his battling capabilities should ensure he is vital for West Ham in their attempts to avoid Championship football.

Watford

Position: 17th

Key man: Troy Deeney

Watford looked doomed when they appointed Nigel Pearson on the 6th December, their third manager of the season. They were bottom of the league and relegation already looked almost inevitable. Pearson has come in and rallied the troops of a squad who have enough quality to be far higher in the league after last season’s 11th placed finish and FA Cup final run with largely the same players. They went on an impressive run of one defeat in eight games immediately after Pearson was appointed and also handed Liverpool their only league defeat of the season so far in their penultimate fixture before lockdown in resounding fashion, scoring three to no reply.

Central to this has been their 31 year-old captain Troy Deeney, the uncompromising striker. He has not always been in favour in recent seasons at Watford under various management but Pearson has given Deeney the responsibility of leading the line to try and save the Hornets from relegation. What Deeney may lack in ability he more than makes up for in the physical side of the game. His bulldozer-like approach geared up for a tough relegation battle, Watford fans would have been worried when he publicly voiced his unwillingness to return to training due to safety concerns with Covid-19. It is not certain if he will be ready to return to action on Saturday 20th June when Watford host Leicester but Watford will hope he can have a major part to play between now and the end of the season. Not renowned for his goals, he has scored six goals and two assists in 18 Premier League appearances this season but it’s his ability to intimidate and bully opposition defenders which mean he is vital to Watford. It will also be interesting to see if £30m summer signing Ismaillar Sarr can kick on from his heroic performance against Liverpool, where he scored two and assisted the third, and prove to be a key man in the end of season run-in.

AFC Bournemouth

Position: 18th

Callum Wilson

Bournemouth find themselves lying in 18th in the Premier League as the sides gear up for the restart. They could even slip down to 19th should Aston Villa beat Sheffield United in the first game back on Wednesday. The season break may well have done Bournemouth some good with their players visibly lacking in confidence in recent months. A side associated with open football and high-scoring games since they gained promotion to the Premier League in 2015, the Cherries have struggled in front of goal this season with 29 goals scored in 29 league games. Their two main goal threats, Callum Wilson and Joshua King, have both struggled with the pair on eight and 4 league goals this season respectively.

Wilson went from September 28th 2019 until 21st January 2020 without a league goal for Bournemouth and he looked bereft of confidence in this spell. However, the England international’s form had improved prior to the break with three goals in his last six and his all-round play noticeably better. If Bournemouth are to avoid relegation and secure their sixth consecutive season as a Premier League club they will need Wilson back to his best, starting with a tricky game at home to a notoriously difficult to beat Crystal Palace side on Saturday.

Aston Villa

Position: 19th

Key man: Jack Grealish

Should Aston Villa beat Sheffield United in their game in hand on the June 17th they will jump to 16th and have a real platform to build from as the season draws to a conclusion. Key to this will be Jack Grealish, the 24 year-old who has dragged his club through games almost single-handedly at times this season. He started the season playing deeper than fans are used to seeing him and in a central position but Dean Smith preferred to play him in a wide left position prior to the season break, where he has had a lot of joy even if it has not been enough to steer Villa up the table. His seven goals and six assists in 26 league games are impressive returns for a midfield player in a struggling side and many hoped Gareth Southgate would give the Villa captain a place in the England squad had the Euros gone ahead this month as planned. One thing that is for sure is that if Aston Villa have any chance of surviving this season they need Grealish to be at his best.

The return to fitness of John McGinn is also a huge boost for Villa as he is rumoured to have featured in a behind closed doors friendly against West Bromich Albion in the lead up to the return of the Premier League. Aston Villa travel to West Ham for the final game of the season in a game which could well decide both teams fate.

Norwich City

Position: 20th

Key man: Teemu Pukki

Norwich have found their return to the Premier League a real struggle and are bottom going into the final nine games of the season. They are six points from safety and have the worst goal difference in the league, the nature of their playing style commendable if a little naive. There have been positives this season with the likes of Jamal Lewis, Max Aarons, Todd Cantwell and Emiliano Buendia all impressing.

However, if Norwich are to have any hope of staying up they will need Teemu Pukki firing on all cylinders. The Finland international scored a remarkable 29 goals for Norwich in the Championship last season after being snapped up as a free agent. He had continued that form into the opening weeks of the Premier League season, notably scoring a hat-trick against Newcastle in the second game of the season, however his scoring rate had slowed before the season break. He still has 11 league goals and four assists to his name this season which is impressive for a player in a side that has struggled so much. He also shocked many by scoring 10 goals in 10 games in Euro 2020 qualifying which saw Finland qualify for their first ever major tournament. A man high on confidence, he is sure to be able to add to his goal tally between now and the end of the season. The telling factor for Norwich will be if they can be defensively solid enough to ensure Pukki’s goals result in wins for the league’s basement club.

The players highlighted will all be desperate to ensure they can keep their respective clubs in England’s top division and it will be intriguing to see who can steer their sides clear of the drop. It will also be fascinating to see how the lack of crowds influences the teams, while they won’t have the fans pushing them on it may be that clubs towards the bottom of the table play with more confidence without a negative atmosphere from nervy fans. A new hero could even emerge to the fore to drive their club to another season in the division. All these factors make for a potentially exhilarating end to the season with games coming thick and fast in the condensed fixture schedule.

Kai Havertz: The real deal?

Kai Havertz. Many have heard the name but with the Bundesliga being thrust into the limelight in recent weeks football fans have wanted to see for themselves whether the 20 year-old German is the real deal. It would appear that he has flourished knowing that the world is watching, with five goals in three games since the restart, a good sign for a career seemingly destined for the top.

Despite being only 20, this is Havertz’ fourth senior season for Bayer Leverkusen. At the time he made his debut in the 2016/17 season he was the youngest player to play in the Bundesliga ever, going on to become Leverkusen’s youngest ever Bundesliga scorer at the time the following season. His profile has grown and grown and he has racked up a number of records in this period, being the youngest player to reach 50 Bundesliga appearances, 100 Bundesliga appearances and was also the youngest player to get to 30 Bundesliga goals before Jadon Sancho took this record on May 31st. He also has 7 Germany caps and 1 international goal to his name. An impressive CV for a player so young.

Havertz in action for Germany.

He has made most of these appearances playing as an attacking midfielder or from wide but since the Bundesliga has resumed he’s been playing as a lone striker, flourishing in a false nine role. This started as an alternative to Kevin Volland who usually leads the line for Leverkusen but was carrying an injury upon the return of football in Germany but Havertz’ performances as a striker has shown just how versatile the youngster is. A quality that will increase the already intense interest in him from Europe’s top clubs.

Havertz is predominantly left-footed but has a more than capable right foot, he’s 6’2 and uses his height well as displayed with his two headed goals against Werder Bremen in the first game back from the season break. He has tremendous vision and dribbling ability and can link the midfield and attack seamlessly and cannot be accused of a lack of pace. He is also not one to shirk responsibility, as shown by his penalty taking and occasional wearing of the captain’s armband. He has all the attributes to go right to the top should he not let it go to his head and many clubs are said to be willing to spend big to secure his services, his youth making him a long-term investment as well as his qualities allowing him to make an immediate impact at almost any team in world football.

Leverkusen appear to be resigned that he will leave the club that gave him his break, but their coach Peter Bosz is rumoured to be desperately trying to convince Havertz to give the club one more year. With the impact that Covid-19 is set to have on football and many clubs said to be cautious about spending big this summer Bosz could get his wish, especially if they can secure Champions League football once more. Rumours are that Leverkusen will accept no less than €100m for Havertz and this may put clubs off, at least this summer. Real Madrid have reportedly offered €80m and the option for Havertz to return to Leverkusen on loan next season which could be tempting for the German club, while Liverpool, Manchester United, Bayern and numerous others are also said to be in the race for his signature.

Havertz celebrating one of his 35 career Bundesliga goals so far.

All evidence suggests that Havertz is indeed the real deal but it can only be said for sure when he takes the leap to the top level of European clubs and delivers on the biggest of stages. This may happen next season but, with youth on his side, he has options. There are not many clubs, if any, in the world that Havertz wouldn’t instantly improve and he will be sure to be looking for guaranteed playing time. If Havertz does decide to stay put at Leverkusen this will do him no harm, with another year of developing as a key player before being thrust into the limelight even further. The limelight where he has flourished so far.

Hertha Berlin: Could the next German superpower be from the capital?

Since the return of football in Germany Hertha Berlin have beaten Hoffenheim 3-0 away from home, smashed city rivals Union Berlin 4-0, recorded an impressive 2-2 draw away at third place RB Leipzig and beat Augsburg 2-0. They have began investing heavily recently in a bid to improve their fortunes and have surprised many with their form in the four games since the Bundesliga resumed.

Until Union’s promotion last summer Hertha were the sole flag bearers for the German capital in the Bundesliga and have not only never won the league, but have rarely been considered among Germany’s elite clubs. It is rare across Europe for a nation’s capital to not have a successful side, when you consider the fortunes of Real and Atlético Madrid, Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham in London, PSG in Paris and numerous others. Could we be about to witness the emergence of a German football superpower in the capital?

This would be a change in fortunes from their relatively unsuccessful past. Hertha were invited into the inaugural Bundesliga season as champions of Berlin but struggled somewhat in the new format. They have notoriously struggled financially and don’t have a single Bundesliga title to their name, often dipping in and out of Germany’s top flight.

Their most successful seasons are considered to be the 1974/75 season where they finished runners-up to league winners Borussia Monchengladbach and the 1978/79 season where they got to the semi-finals of what was then the UEFA Cup. They did manage to qualify for the Champions League for the 1999/2000 campaign where they went out in the second group stage, before the competition’s change in format, and were often found in the early stages of the UEFA Cup in the early 2000’s. None of this has been enough however to establish the Berlin club as one of the ‘big clubs’ in Germany. They returned to the Bundesliga in 2013 following further financial difficulty but have remained there ever since and will be hoping their yo-yoing between divisions will be a thing of the past.

The takeover of Hertha was completed on June 27th 2019 and is the biggest takeover deal in German football history. The investment company Tennor Holding B.V bought a 37.5% stake in the club for €125m, with the future option of an additional 12.5%. The Bundesliga and 2. Bundesliga have rules that require clubs to be at least 51% owned by fan membership clubs or registered associations, which means should the investment company take up their optional additional stake they will own as much of the club as they possibly can.

This investment into the capital’s biggest football club signified the beginning of the new era for Hertha Berlin, with everyone associated with the club hoping that investment brings success. The club are very much looking forward and hope to ruffle the feathers of Germany’s elite clubs, the new club motto of ‘the future belongs to Berlin’ emphasising the ambition.

Many took notice of Hertha when they sparked into life in the January transfer window, signing Krzysztof Piatek for €24m from AC Milan and highly rated Brazilian prospect Matheus Cunha from RB Leipzig for €18m. The truth is however, the rebuild had already begun.

Piatek joined Hertha in January.

Hertha had already acquired 22 year-old Belgian live-wire Dodi Lukebakio from Watford for €20m in 2019 as well as spending €25m on 23 year-old central midfielder Lucas Tousart from Lyon in January 2020 who was immediately loaned back to his former club. These big money signings, along with the two attacking recruits in January and some astute deals, including free agent Dedryck Boyata at centre-back and Marko Grujic on loan from Liverpool, have shown that Hertha are looking to build a side to challenge domestically and get into Europe.

In terms of facilities, the club are in a strong position to make the next step. They play their home games at the Olympiastadion, a stadium purpose built for the infamous 1936 Olympics synonymous with Hitler’s reign. They have resided here since 1963, the debut Bundesliga season, and can boast the second largest capacity stadium in Germany, second only to Borussia Dortmund’s Signal Iduna Park, with a capacity of 74,475.

They have a contract with the Olympiastadion until 2025 but they have no plans to renew the contract, instead looking to build a new stadium ready for the contract’s end. Hertha fans cannot fill a stadium with such a large capacity and their owner’s would prefer a stadium where a better atmosphere can be generated and the stadium is full. The proposed ‘Hertha Fussballarena’ is still planned to have an impressive 55,000 capacity so is by no means a huge downsize, but should give the Hertha fans a greater feeling of being at home, no longer being the only Bundesliga club to not own their own stadium. 55,000 is also 5,000 more than Hertha’s average home attendance so gives the club a chance to grow its fanbase. If fans feared that the new stadium plans would put a halt to their side’s progress on the pitch then they need not worry, with the club’s owners assuring supporters that the funds for the new stadium and the transfer funds will be two separate pots of money.

The Olympiastadion.

Hertha made the bold move of appointing Bruno Labbadia as their new manager during the season break following Jurgen Klinsmann’s controversial 10 week spell in charge which culminated in him announcing his departure through a Facebook post. Labbadia is an experienced coach, particularly in German football but has a record of moving clubs regularly, never managing a club for longer than three years in his 17 year managerial career. The Hertha board, players and fans will be hoping for a positive spell under the former Bayern Munich striker and if results so far are anything to go by, this could well be a match made in heaven.

Although the season so far had been underwhelming, Hertha’s form since the return of football and new management has been inspired and they will be hoping to finish the season strongly to put the building blocks in place for a strong 2020/21 season. With the form they are in and the sides around them struggling to gather momentum post-lockdown Hertha have a real chance of securing a Europa League qualification place, which would’ve seemed out of reach in March, sitting four points off with five games remaining.

A strong end of season, a new stadium on the horizon and owners who seem willing to spend to improve the side, it is an intriguing time for Hertha Berlin. Will Germany follow the trend of other leagues and have a successful side from the capital? Can Hertha really challenge the traditional top clubs in Germany? The next few years will tell. There’s a famous German joke that Berlin will finally have it’s new airport before Hertha have a good side, making reference to the still unopened Berlin airport that was meant to begin operation in 2012. However, the wait for a good Hertha side may finally be over.

Featured Match: Borussia Dortmund 0 – 1 Bayern Munich

First versus second. Two great rivals, one trying to topple the recent dominance of the other. Borussia Dortmund versus Bayern Munich. Der Klassiker.

Bayern travelled to Dortmund knowing that victory over their rivals could all but secure them the Bundesliga title, putting them seven points clear of second with six games to play. Dortmund knew this was not just must-not-lose but must-win.

Favre opted for the same starting XI as the previous two fixtures, avoiding the temptation to throw Sancho and Can into such a huge game. Bayern made one change from Saturday’s 5-2 home win, bringing Gnabry in for Perisic.

It was a game that should have had an electrifying atmosphere, with the Dortmund faithful buoying their side for the fight. Instead, as with all the Bundesliga fixtures, it was played without atmosphere. Every shout from a player and kick of a ball reverberating around the empty stadium. However, despite the lack of a crowd to give them the edge, it was Dortmund who started the far better of the two sides, taking the game to their opponents. In fact, it was only one minute into the game when Neuer got to the ball to clear just ahead of Hazard, with the ball dropping to Haland who put the ball past Neuer only to see Boateng clear his effort off the line.

Dortmund looked to be be playing with confidence early on and moved the ball crisply and swiftly. After 10 minutes they had the ball in the net as Hazard squared for Hakimi to head in but Hazard was in an offside position following Hakimi’s initial miscued shot and the goal was rightly ruled out.

Against the run of play, on 19 minutes, it was Bayern’s turn to see a shot cleared off the line. Good work from Coman on the right hand side of the box saw him squeeze the ball back to Gnabry who dug out an effort which beat Bürki only for Piszczek to magnificently clear off the line. Bayern had regained a bit of control in the game following Dortmund’s early start but it was still the home side who looked more threatening going forward, particularly with their intricate play in the final third. However, the usual attacking influence of Hakimi at right wing-back was often stifled by the impressive and incredibly quick Alphonso Davies at left back for Bayern.

Haland continued to look dangerous and another chance fell his way as Hazard fed him a through ball which he may have done better with, seeing his left-footed shot blocked by Boateng. A few moments later Haland threatened again, stealing the ball and driving past Alaba only for a slightly loose touch to allow Davies to recover possession once again.

The game looked set to be heading to half-time goalless but Kimmich was determined to change that. In the 43rd minute the ball rolled back to Kimmich from the edge of the Dortmund box, the 25 year-old German took one touch to get the ball out his feet before dinking the ball from 20 yards. Bürki was left scrambling backwards towards his own goal-line and will feel he should have done better, only being able to push the ball back into his own net. The audacity of Kimmich’s effort caught him off guard though, and nothing should be taken away from the special effort.

Kimmich delicately chips over Bürki.

Favre was not willing to hang around following the half-time break, immediately bringing on Sancho and Can for the restart, with Brandt and Delaney making way. Brandt may have felt hard done by after being involved in most things that Dortmund did well in the first half. Following his introduction Sancho showed signs of his lack of match sharpness with a few loose touches, perhaps understandably so given the high tempo of the game. He did get his customary nutmeg though, putting the ball through Muller’s legs with a sharp change of direction.

Dortmund struggled to create in the second half, although they may feel aggrieved to have not been given a penalty. Hazard squared the ball to Haland who took a touch before firing left-footed towards goal. Boateng had slipped and the ball appeared to strike his arm, deflecting the ball away from goal. There was little Dortmund appeal and VAR was not consulted but after watching the replay the Dortmund players will feel that at the very least VAR should have checked for handball.

Haland’s early influence on proceedings dwindled as the game went on and Dortmund began to look short of ideas and belief. However, when Haland went off injured in the 72nd minute, to be replaced by the 17 year-old Reyna, all hope of a comeback seemed to be sucked out of the Dortmund players. Hazard tried to operate in a false nine role but, without a striker as a focal point, Dortmund’s impressive build up lacked any end product. Bayern looked comfortable defending with no striker to mark and managed to see out the game to secure victory against their biggest title rivals in the Bundesliga this season.

This was a game that highlighted the gulf in quality in the two squads. Dortmund were without key men from the start with Sancho, Can and Witsel all on the bench and Reus still out injured. Bayern have injuries too, with Tolisso, Coutinho and Thiago noticeable absentees. However, once Favre had thrown on Sancho and Can at half time, his options looked very limited to change the game and the problem only having one first team striker in your squad carries was highlighted when Haland was forced off injured and Hazard was made to play as a makeshift striker. Compare this to Bayern, where Hans Flick was able to bring on Ivan Perisic, €80 million summer signing Theo Hernandez, and Javi Martinez to see the game out and the difficulty that is associated with bridging the gap for Dortmund is clear to see.

It looks incredibly unlikely that Bayern will drop enough points for Dortmund not to see this as the end of their title hopes, especially with the form Bayern have been in since the season resumed. Dortmund will be ruing missing their early chances and had they won it could have been one of the most exciting Bundesliga title races in recent memory, however it now looks as though they will be battling to secure second spot ahead of RB Leipzig.

Next for Bayern is a home fixture against lowly Fortuna Düsseldorf on Saturday, while Dortmund will be hoping to return to winning ways away at bottom side Paderborn on Sunday.

Featured Match: Werder Bremen 1 – 4 Bayer Leverkusen

Following RB Leipzig’s shock draw at home with SC Freiburg on Saturday, Bayer Leverkusen had an opportunity to close the gap in their hunt for a Champions League qualification place to just one point last night. It was an opportunity they took with both hands, putting four goals past a Werder Bremen side really struggling for confidence even despite the break.

Leverkusen looked assured from the outset and passed the ball very confidently, perhaps the lack of a hostile crowd aiding this. 17 year-old Florian Wirtz made his debut for the away side, becoming the third youngest player to make his Bundesliga debut. The man he replaced as Leverkusen’s youngest ever Bundesliga player, Kai Havertz, shone in a false nine role where he was allowed the freedom to drop deep to collect the ball.

It was Havertz who opened the scoring with a back post header in the 28th minute, following a darting run and looping cross from the impressive 20 year-old Moussa Diaby. Bremen applied some pressure and responded quickly, with Selassie neatly flicking a Bittencourt corner past Hrádecky in the Leverkusen goal in the 30th minute.

Bremen would have hoped they could push on after getting level but this hope was dashed just three minutes later when Havertz again displayed his aerial ability, this time heading in from a Demirbay free-kick for his second of the evening and 8th of the season in the league.

Leverkusen celebrate their second of the night.

The score remained 1-2 to Leverkusen until half-time and the pattern of the away side’s dominance did not change following the break, with the visitors finishing the game with 63% possession. Diaby was again the provider with a cross from the left which saw Leverkusen net their third header of the game, this time right back Mitchell Weisel getting in on the act from the back post.

Bremen were not without chances, with Eggestein missing a glorious chance to make the score 2-3 and set up an exciting finale, slotting wide with the goal gaping following a cutback from Davie Selke. However, if the third goal didn’t put the game to bed then Leverkusen’s fourth certainly did. They saved their best goal of the night until last with a sublime no-look pass from substitute Karim Bellarabi playing Demirbay through on goal who held his nerve to deftly chip over the Bremen keeper, a finish you wouldn’t associate with a player yet to get off the mark in the league this season.

This performance and result shows that Bayer Leverkusen mean business for the tail end of the season and will be pushing the top four all the way for a Champions League qualification place. Havertz, Diaby and co. were showing no effects of the break and look ready for the challenge which is sure to see an exciting finale to the season.

At the other end of the table things look bleak for Werder Bremen who have now failed to win any of their last seven league games, only managing one draw in that time. Sitting in 17th, games against the teams around them in the table are likely to decide their fate but the way they were carved apart at times last night means you fear the worst for the side who have only spent one season outside of the Bundesliga in their history. They will be hoping they can take advantage of their game in hand and put the pressure on Fortuna Düsseldorf in the upcoming weeks, who sit five points above them in the relegation play-off place.

Turkey: The home of the veteran striker

One of the lesser followed leagues in Europe from a neutral perspective, the Turkish top flight is full of drama and renowned for it’s extremely passionate fans for which the club they support is more of a lifestyle than a hobby. The rivalries between clubs in Turkey often reach boiling point, with the league even playing host to the game commonly referred to as ‘The Intercontinental Derby’ between Galatasary and Fenerbache, with Galatasary being in Europe and Fenerbache in Asia. This derby is fuelled by the clubs involved being the two most successful clubs in Turkey historically, however, there are many other fixtures in Turkey which see no love lost between the two sets of players and supporters.

However, it is perhaps not the derbies, or even the recent rise of clubs such as Trabzonspor and Istanbul Basaksehir that is the most remarkable thing about the Super Lig, but the incredibly consistent array of veteran strikers plying their trade in the division. Think of a striker who carved out a successful career in Europe who you thought was retired and the chances are they reside in Turkey’s top division, and scoring goals while they do it.

This article details the strikers who are enjoying perhaps one last hoorah before retirement while opting to play in a highly competitive league rather than seek riches elsewhere, and also the differing levels of success they have had in doing so.

Radamel Falcao

Age: 34

Current club: Galatasary

The biggest name currently residing in the Super Lig, Falcao’s summer transfer from AS Monaco to Galatasary saw him gain instant adoration from his new fans. Despite struggling with the injury problems that have hampered the last few years of his career, the goal record of ‘El Tigre’ in his new surroundings is commendable with nine in 14 games.

During his peak at Atlético Madrid many felt Falcao could progress to be remembered as one of the greats, but a move to AS Monaco potentially showed a lack of ambition. That paired with a serious knee problem and two failed loan spells in the Premier League has led to some forgetting just how potent he was for Atlético, but the Galatasary faithful instantly warmed to the striker who has 34 goals for Colombia in 89 appearances. Should he manage to stay fit he has what it takes to really make his mark in the Turkish top flight.

Demba Ba

Age: 34

Current club: Istanbul Basaksehir

Demba Ba burst onto the scene when he moved to West Ham in 2011, but his seven goals in 12 games wasn’t enough to prevent the Hammers from getting relegated. He subsequently moved to Newcastle and this is where he really began to gain attention scoring 29 goals in his two year stay before Chelsea came knocking. He had been less prolific once Papiss Cissé joined Newcastle and at times BA had to inexplicably settle for a spot on the wing. Ba’s short stay at Chelsea saw him net seven league goals in 33 games but he was never seen as the main man at Stamford Bridge, with Torres and Eto’o both above him in the pecking order. He will always be remembered though, as the benefactor of Steven Gerrard’s infamous slip where he went through to slot past Mignolet.

Ba moved to the Turkish league in the summer of 2014 and has spread his time during the past six years between Turkish clubs Besiktas, Göztepe, and now Istanbul Basaksehir as well as two spells at Chinese club Shanghai Shenhua. In that time he has an impressive goal ratio of 38 goals in 69 league games in Turkey and with Başakşehir currently joint top of the league, he will be hoping football will soon resume so he can help push for the Turkish league title.

Papiss Cissé

Age: 34

Current club: Alanyaspor

As mentioned previously, Papiss Cissé joined Newcastle in 2012 and became the focal point of their attack, with Ba moving to the left. He had an impressive goal record at Freiburg in the Bundesliga before arriving with 37 league goals in 65 games. As fate would have it, he also scored 37 league goals for Newcastle, albeit in 117 games. His form when he arrived in the Premier League was scintillating but this had settled down a lot by the end of his four year stint.

Cissé and Ba’s careers seem remarkably entwined and, like Ba, Cissé went to China where he spent two seasons at Shandong Luneng. On 31st August 2018 Cissé signed for Alanyaspor which is where he has remained since, scoring an impressive 31 league goals in 44 games in the process.

Robinho

Age: 36

Current club: Istanbul Basaksehir

A hugely talented footballer with the typical Brazilian flair, Robinho’s transfer from Real Madrid to Manchester City in 2008 sent shockwaves around the footballing world. Robinho was the first real marquee signing of the new ownership at City, with the signing announced on the day the Abu Dhabi United Group completed their takeover and he brought real excitement to the blue side of Manchester. Some incredible performances followed in his first season but his second season was impacted by injury and he fell down the pecking order, making only 10 league appearances. His stay in Manchester was short lived as he moved to AC Milan in 2010 where he spent the next five years. Again he failed to really live up to his potential scoring 25 league goals in 108 games, albeit he has never really played as an out and out striker.

A player seemingly more appreciated in his homeland, where he has 100 Brazil caps and 28 international goals, Robinho moved back home on loan to Santos in the 2014-15 season. A permanent move to China followed before moving back to Brazil again after just a year to play for Atlético Mineiro. He eventually found himself in the Turkish Super Lig, signing for Sivasspor for the 2018/19 season and is now at Istanbul Basaksehir where he is helping their push for the title.

He has scored 16 goals in 53 league appearances in Turkey but may be left ruing what might have been with Pele touting a 15 year old Robinho as the heir to his throne. However, his two La Liga titles, one Serie A title, and 2007 Copa America win are honours that not many players can claim.

Arouna Koné

Age: 36

Current club: Sivasspor

Wigan fans will remember Koné’s dyed white hair and number 2 shirt fondly from his highly successful single season for the Latics in the 2012/13 Premier League season. Unfortunately his 11 league goals weren’t enough to prevent Wigan from being relegated but they did beat Manchester City against all odds to win the FA Cup. When Roberto Martinez swapped Wigan for Everton in the summer of 2013 he took Koné with him, however his six league goals in four years in Merseyside are evidence of his struggles. This prompted a move to Sivasspor in 2017 where he has managed a respectable if not prolific 26 league goals in 72 games.

Cameron Jerome

Age: 33

Current club: Goztepe A.S.

Cameron Jerome has forged a relatively successful career in English football where his main strengths have always been his work ethic and physicality, rather than his goal scoring returns. Spells at Birmingham, Stoke, Crystal Palace and Norwich in the Premier League as well as time spent in the Championship are evidence of a solid career. However his 33 Premier League goals in eight seasons spent in England’s top flight are proof of goals not being the strikers main contribution to his team.

This pattern has continued for Jerome in Turkey where he has only managed to contribute seven goals in 42 league games at Goztepe. However, often leading the line on his own, Jerome’s game is predominantly about bringing others into play and linking attacks.

Max Kruse

Age: 32

Current club: Fenerbache

Max Kruse is in his first season in Turkish football with the entirety of his career up to this point spent in his homeland of Germany. He has a number of German clubs on his CV with Werder Bremen, SC Freiburg and VfL Wolfsburg to name a few. Prior to his move to Fenerbache in 2019, Kruse was in his second spell at Werder Bremen where he managed 32 goals in 84 league appearance prior to his contract expiring. A talented player with an eye for both a goal and assist, Kruse also has 14 Germany caps to his name as well as four international goals and many in Germany felt he was unlucky to be left out of the German’s provisional 30-man squad for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Kruse has settled in well in his new surroundings predominantly playing in the number 10 role for his new club and has seven goals and six assists from this position in 20 league games. However, Fenerbache sit in a lowly 7th place in the table and are 13 points off the pace for the title that they have won on 19 occasions.

Hugo Rodallega

Age: 34

Current club: Denizlispor

Hugo Rodallega became known to fans of the Premier League when Wigan signed him for £4.5m from Mexican side Necaxa in 2009. He went onto score 24 league goals for the club in 112 games and is still Wigan’s all-time highest Premier League goal scorer. He scored a further 15 league goals in England across three years at Fulham before moving on to Turkey in 2015 where he has played for Akhisarspor, Trabzonspor and now Denizlispor.

The Colombian, who has eight goals for his country, has enjoyed life in Turkey and has reached double figures for league goals in three of his five seasons in the Super Lig. His debut season for Akhisarspor was the most prolific of his senior club career with 19 league goals in 34 games. He came close to this with 15 goals in 33 league games last season for Trabzonspor and has six in 23 for new club Denizlispor this season who sit 10th in the league. In total he has scored 52 goals in his 139 appearances in the Turkish top flight.

Lukas Podolski

Age: 34

Current club: Antalyaspor

A World Cup winner with a sledgehammer of a left foot, Podolski never really lived up to his promise at club level. It was FC Köln that saw the best of him over his two spells with moves to Bayern Munich and Arsenal never really paying off. Much of this has been put down to the affinity Podolski feels towards his first club, Köln, with the German having a tattoo dedicated to the club. Despite these less successful big moves, he is widely regarded as one of the best players of a generation for Germany and with his World Cup winners medal, 130 caps and 39 goals at international level it is difficult to argue with that.

Podolski has had two spells in Turkey, one when he left Arsenal permanently in 2015 for Galatasary, and as of 2020 playing for Antalyaspor. He had spent two and a half years in Japan prior to his move back to Turkey this January, playing alongside David Villa and Andres Iniesta at Vissel Kobe. In his first spell in Turkey Podolski scored 20 league goals in 56 games, as well as the winner in the 2016 Turkish Cup final against Fenerbache. He has only played six league games since his return but has managed two goals in that time and it will be interesting to see how long he remains in Turkey as many thought he would retire after his spell in Japan.

Emmanuel Adebayor

Age: 36

Current club: Olimpia (Paraguay)

A player who divides opinion, Emmanuel Adebayor’s ability has never been in doubt. His attitude, however, has. With his infamous celebration against former side Arsenal when scoring for Manchester City and his habit of regularly changing club, 10 times in total, Togo’s highest ever goal scorer is still scoring goals at the age of 36. Although he has recently left the Turkish league, in a bizarre transfer to become the highest paid player ever in the Paraguayan first division, his three years as a veteran striker in Turkey deserve a mention.

Adebayor signed for Istanbul Basaksehir in 2017 following a short spell at Crystal Palace and in his first season his new side finished runners up in both the league and cup. In his time at Basaksehir he also scored two hat-tricks against Galatasary. He then moved to Kayserispor in the summer of 2019 where he made only eight league appearances scoring two goals. This left his record in Turkey as 26 league goals in 68 games. So far in his time in Paraguay he has played two games but is yet to get off the mark.

England: The potential winners and losers of the postponed Euros

With the uncertainty of the return of football across the world’s domestic leagues due to Covid-19, as well as the completion of the Champions League and Europa League, one thing that is certain is that the European Championship will not be taking place this summer.

The competition, which was set to be spread across Europe for the first time, has been postponed until summer 2021. This is unprecedented, as since the maiden European Championship in 1958 the competition has never been rearranged or cancelled.

Inevitably there will be winners and losers as a result of this. Players who were set to be ruled out of the tournament through injury will now have an unexpected chance to play. Players will be a year older, whether that means a year where the toll of football has tightened its grip, or a years more experience and valuable game time. Players whose emergence may have come a little too late for managers to take a risk on them at a major tournament now have another year to break into their national sides.

This article explores the potential winners and losers from the postponement of the Euros until summer 2021 from an England perspective.

Winners

Harry Kane

When Kane limped off against Southampton on New Years Day most England fans hoped there was sufficient time for England’s talisman to return, find fitness and form, and be ready to lead the line at Euro 2020. However, Tottenham and Mourinho in particular, have been very cautious when talking about Kane’s injury with Mourinho suggesting Kane may not feature again in the 2019/20 season prior to the outbreak of Covid-19.

Southgate and England will be hopeful that a year to get himself fit and firing again should be ample time and that the 2018 World Cup Golden Boot winner doesn’t pick up any more injuries, with the 26 year old missing chunks of this season and the last through injury.

Kane celebrating his hat-trick goal against Panama at World Cup 2018.

Marcus Rashford

Similarly to Kane, Rashford picked up an injury early in 2020 which it had been suggested may have left him in a battle against time to be fit for the Euros this summer. Rashford having the time to recover is great news for England and Manchester United with the youngster leading by example at Old Trafford following the departure of Romelu Lukaku.

Rashford will still only be 23 by next summer and should he continue as he is it is expected that he will play a key role in an England shirt over the next few years.

Jack Grealish

Despite being heavily touted for a first cap all season, Southgate has yet to call Grealish up to the England squad. Grealish was the key man in driving Aston Villa to the Premier League last season and has acquitted himself remarkably well in his return to England’s top division. The fact that Villa are still in contention to stay in the league is down to Grealish’s performances and the way he influences everything good that Villa do. He can pick a pass, score a goal, but one of his biggest strengths is his ability to carry the ball up the pitch and beat a man which has allowed him to vary between a free attacking role and also a deeper role for Villa this season with ease.

His performances have understandably led to admiring glances from some of the top clubs in England and if he is to move on this summer and continue to progress it will be very difficult to ignore him any longer. One thing that Grealish must improve however is his behaviour off the field and this is something that Southgate puts a lot of emphasis on.

Aaron Wan-Bissaka

Aaron Wan-Bissaka has gone from strength to strength since his transfer from Crystal Palace to Manchester United last summer and is widely regarded as the best 1-on-1 defender in the league. A claim highlighted by his series of performances against potential future England teammate Raheem Sterling in the league and cup Manchester derbies this season.

One area where he must improve however is his attacking play. With his pace and power he can beat a man but seems to struggle once he reaches the final third. If he improves in this area he could become one of the world’s best full backs and push Alerxander-Arnold for the right back spot for years to come.

Dean Henderson

Unlikely to have had enough time on his side to make a realistic push for the England number 1. Jersey this summer next season will be crucial to Henderson’s development and England chances. Sheffield United are desperate to secure his services for at least one more season but with De Gea making some crucial mistakes in the last couple of seasons Manchester United may be looking to get Henderson to stay at Old Trafford next season.

Henderson will want assurances over his playing time if he is to stay at Manchester United next season and it is hard to envisage him getting that unless De Gea is sold. An interesting summer awaits the 23 year old with the decisions made potentially making or breaking his England starting chances for the Euros next summer.

Phil Foden

Still only 19, Phil Foden is widely regarded as the heir to David Silva’s throne at the Etihad. It will be interesting to see if Guardiola puts faith in the man he has labelled as ‘the most talented’ he has ever seen, or if he decides to spend big on a David Silva replacement as many fear he will. If this does happen and Foden sees no improvement in his playing time it will be tough for him to break into Gareth Southgate’s side. However, a season of performing well for Pep’s side could be the springboard to the Under 17 World Cup winner’s senior international career.

Grealish and Foden battle in the Premier League.

Dominic Calvert-Lewin

Always regarded as a hard-working striker with talent who didn’t quite have the killer touch in front of goal, Calvert-Lewin’s improvement under Carlo Ancelotti has been remarkable. For most of his career he has played as a lone striker or come off the bench but under Everton’s new manager he has more often than not found himself supported by Richarlison in a simple 4-4-2 formation. He has 13 league goals to his name in the league this season, eight since Ancelotti’s arrival in December, which is already by far his most prolific as a senior player.

The postponement of the Euros gives him a chance to really gain Southgate’s attention and Southgate’s record of bringing England under-21 players into the senior side bodes well for the Everton man. Another year under Ancelotti’s tutelage could see even further improvement in 23 year old Calvert-Lewin’s game.

Losers

Danny Ings

Danny Ings has been the shining light for a struggling Southampton side this season and has surpassed his record Premier League goal tally already. He is displaying the form that persuaded Liverpool to sign him from Burnley after just one season in the Premier League in 2015 and has done remarkably well to recover from two very serious knee injuries. He has attributed his form this season to feeling settled and happy on the south coast and is relishing being the main man again. With Kane and Rashford both struggling with injury this season Ings seemed very likely to add to his one England cap and perhaps bettering that by really pushing for a starting spot.

His form had settled down slightly before Covid-19 halted play although he still boasts one of the highest shot conversion rates in Europe this season. Due to his aforementioned injuries, he does seem to struggle with more than one game in a week which would be a concern at a major tournament where fixtures come thick and fast. However, Ings has repeatedly expressed how desperate he is not to be part of the notorious ‘one-cap club’ with England, having made his only previous appearance in 2015, and if he can maintain his performance levels next season then he will give himself every chance of featuring in Euro 2021.

Ings in action in his solitary England appearance so far.

Jordan Pickford

Pickford has seemingly struggled since his heroics in England’s run to the 2018 Wold Cup semi-final. His Everton form has been inconsistent at best, with the late mistake that gifted Origi the winner in the Merseyside derby last season a particularly notable error.

He may have scraped the number 1. jersey had the Euros been this summer due to the trust he has earned from Southgate and the lack of time another ‘keeper had to dislodge him. However, with the likes of Dean Henderson and Nick Pope given another season to secure a starting spot, it may be that Pickford’s stint as England’s goalkeeper is coming to an end. It should also be said, though, that Pickford will have another season to improve his consistency and with his distribution being a valuable asset he is sure to not give up his England spot without a fight.

Kieran Trippier

Kieran Trippier is enjoying a decent start to life in Spain with Atlético Madrid and has spoken glowingly about the defensive lessons Diego Simeone has taught him. Trippier’s delivery was a major threat for England at the 2018 World Cup and he will be hoping he will have earned another tournament under Southgate, however a slight lack of pace and the emergence of Alexander-Arnold and Wan-Bissaka may see the former Tottenham man phased out of the squad.

Kyle Walker is also a threat to the right back position although he has seemingly fallen out of favour with Southgate in the last 12 months. Walker’s performances as a centre back in England’s back three in the 2018 World Cup may see him get the nod due to his versatility.

James Maddison

While there is no denying James Maddison’s talent, if Grealish and Foden are to profit from the postponement of the Euros until next year, then it may be at Maddison’s expense. His 6 goals and 3 assists in 28 Premier League games is not a bad return, but it could be argued that, as the main playmaker at Leicester, and with Jamie Vardy to supply, a player of Maddison’s ability should be contributing more. He also has a slight tendency to go missing when his side are up against it and, while it is difficult for a playmaker to be as effective with less of the ball, Grealish seems to thrive in carrying the ball and driving his side forward when his side are struggling. It will be interesting to see if either moves elsewhere this summer, with both constantly linked to Manchester United, and how their games develop as a result.

Maddison celebrates scoring for Leicester City.

Callum Wilson

Callum Wilson has been given chances in the England squad by Southgate since the World Cup and is generally seen as the current fourth striker in the squad. He has scored one goal in four England appearances, coming in Wayne Rooney’s final England game, a 3-0 win against USA at Wembley.

Wilson’s form had taken a downward turn for Bournemouth prior to the season being halted by Covid-19 and he went from September 28th 2019 until 21st January 2020 without finding the net in the league for Bournemouth. He does tend to score goals in patches and if he’s in form going into a tournament he could be a real asset, however Southgate may be tempted to go for someone more consistent in front of goal. His reputation may also be tarnished slightly if his Bournemouth side do end up getting relegated this season, although there will be no shortage of clubs looking to sign him if he feels the need to move.

Which Bundesliga team should I support?

It has felt like an eternity since football was last on our screens but, with the German Football Association rumoured to be optimistic of a 9th May return date for the Bundesliga, this long wait could soon be over.

Germany has seemingly handled Covid-19 better than most by adopting the approach of lockdown early on and this has meant that Bundesliga clubs have been back training for a number of weeks, although much of this training has been under social-distancing constraints. With the last match played on the 8th March, a 1-1 draw between Mainz and Fortuna Dusseldorf, this would mean a 9th May return day would mark almost exactly two months since a ball was last kicked in the German top flight. This has of course led to questions over the feasibility and morality of a return so soon.

It is understood that the German F.A’s approach will be to play fixtures behind closed doors and with the stadium split into three sections, each of approximately 100 people.

The first group is the playing staff, coaching staff and other members of staff associated with the clubs.

The second group is official spectators and journalists, with the third group being safety staff and other staff of that ilk who ensure the running of the match day.

While this is seemingly positive, the German government are yet to discuss the matter and it is uncertain whether they will back the proposals. It is estimated that, for the league to return in this format, 20,000 Covid-19 tests will be required to make this as safe as possible for all involved. This raises questions over the morality of the proposals, with many feeling those tests could be better used for hospitals or the vulnerable in German society.

However, if the league is to restart in early May this is an exciting prospect for football fans around the world whose weekends just haven’t been the same. The German Bundesliga is an exciting, passion-fuelled league. Bayern Munich’s rare slow start to the season meant that a number of clubs had a sniff of toppling the serial winners’ recent dominance, but following a change in management, they have regained their place at the top of the table. This place is still up for grabs though, with Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig hot on their heels, which makes for a thrilling title race. There is also an intriguing relegation battle that, with a few bad results, a number of teams could find themselves involved in.

The following guide is designed to help you get to grips with the clubs that make up the German Bundesliga before it re-commences. You never know, you may even find yourself choosing a new second team to support!

Augsburg

Position: 14th

Star man: Philipp Max

Promoted to the German top flight for the first time in 2011, Augsburg have not left the division since. They have really struggled to put a consistent run of form together this season, aside from a run of four wins and a draw in November, which has led to them hovering above the relegation play-off place.

Bayer Leverkusen

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bayer_04_Leverkusen

Position: 5th

Star man: Kai Havertz

Sitting two points off the 4th Champions League place, Leverkusen will be desperate to get the season back underway. An exciting blend of players, of which 20 year old Kai Havertz is the pick of the bunch, make Leverkusen an enjoyable team to watch. Their fans will be hoping the goals of Kevin Volland can help secure a top 4 finish.

Bayern Munich

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FC_Bayern_Munich

Position: 1st

Star man: Robert Lewandowski

The Bavarian club sit proudly at Europe’s top table and, despite a poor start, have restored order by returning to the Bundesliga summit following the sacking of Niko Kovač. Robert Lewandowski continues to score at a relentless rate and Serge Gnabry has gone some way to helping Bayern fans forget about the retired Arjen Robben, as Tottenham and Chelsea fans will be painfully aware. It seems a rebuild has begun at the club but not at the cost of domestic titles, not willingly at least.

Borussia Dortmund

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Borussia_Dortmund

Position: 2nd

Star man: Marco Reus

If it’s excitement you want then Dortmund are the team for you. A club that prides itself on player development, goals are rarely in short supply when Dortmund are involved. Exciting young players such as Sancho, Brandt and recent acquisition Haland coupled with good experienced players like Reus and Witsel ensure plenty of flair is on display.

Borussia Mönchengladbach

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Borussia_Mönchengladbach

Position: 4th

Star man: Alassane Plea

The five time Bundesliga champions have enjoyed a decent season so far, with notable results including a 2-1 home triumph over Bayern Munich in December. With an average age of 26 and players such as Breel Embolo and Marcus Thuram, son of France legend Lilian, on their books the future looks bright for Mönchengladbach.

Eintracht Frankfurt

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eintracht_Frankfurt

Position: 12th

Star man: Filip Kostic

As any team would, Eintracht Frankfurt have struggled to match the heights of last season after the departures of Luka Jovic, Ante Rebic, and Sebastien Haller. A 7th placed finish in the league and a run to the semi-finals of the Europa League spoilt their fans who have had to settle for inconsistency so far this season.

FC Shalke 04

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FC_Schalke_04

Position: 6th

Star man: Suat Serdar

Schalke are a mainstay in the Bundesliga and have boasted some big names in recent years with the likes of Real Madrid legend Raul, albeit at the end of his career. The current crop are enjoying a strong season under David Wagner and currently sit just ahead of their rivals for the Europa League qualification spot. However, failing to score in eight of their league games this season, they are not always the most free scoring of teams.

FC Union Berlin

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1._FC_Union_Berlin

Position: 11th

Star man: Marius Bülter

FC Union Berlin are competing in the first Bundesliga season in their history after defeating VfB Stuttgart in the relegation play-off to secure promotion. They have gained a wave of media attention due to their incredibly passionate fans and the atmosphere that they generate at the Stadion An der Alten Försterei (Stadium at the old Forester’s house). In their first home game of the season fans held up pictures of fans who had died before they got to see the team play in the Bundesliga and these fans were added to the official attendance. Their home form is the key to them sitting 11th in the table, with six wins in front of their own fans, it is obvious to see the impact of the atmosphere generated.

Fortuna Düsseldorf

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fortuna_Düsseldorf

Position: 16th

Star man: Erik Thommy

It’s been a tough season for Fortuna Düsseldorf who sit in the relegation play-off spot. However, it’s still all to play for with Eintracht Frankfurt in 12th only being eight points clear of them with nine games to play. They are by no means clear of automatic relegation either, with Werder Bremen four points off them and with a game in hand. A nail biting end to the season looks very likely for the side led by former Manchester City striker Uwe Rösler.

FSV Mainz

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1._FSV_Mainz_05

Position: 15th

Star man: Robin Quaison

FSV Mainz are another side who have struggled this season and sit four points above Fortuna Düsseldorf in the relegation play-off position. One bright spark this season has been the form of Swedish striker Robin Quaison with his 12 goals and 2 assists in 24 Bundesliga matches so far a very respectable tally.

Hertha Berlin

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hertha_BSC

Position: 13th

Star man: Dodi Lukebakio

A mixed bag of a season so far sees Hertha sat precariously six points clear of the relegation play-off place. January moves for Krzysztof Piatek and Matheus Cunha brought optimism, with fans hoping Piatek in particular can rediscover the form that persuaded AC Milan to spend a reported fee of €35 million to bring him to the club in January 2019.

Hoffenheim

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TSG_1899_Hoffenheim

Position: 9th

Star man: Sebastian Rudy

When proceedings were brought to a halt in early March Hoffenheim were in 9th, the position they ended the 2018/19 season in. With Sebastian Rudy in central midfield and Andrej Kramaric up front they have some players with a point to prove, with failed spells at Bayern Munich and Leicester City respectively. Kramaric often leads the line for Croatia nowadays and is Hoffenheim’s all time leading Bundesliga scorer with 57 goals. Rudy is a long established Bundesliga player with 29 Germany caps, with the season at Bayern Munich an unfortunate blip.

Köln

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1._FC_Köln

Position: 10th

Star man: Jonas Hector

Köln gained promotion back to the Bundesliga at the first attempt after being relegated to the second division in the 2017/18 season. A club that has a special place in the heart of many, including Lukas Podolski who has a tattoo dedicated to the club, they have faired well in their return to the Bundesliga and currently lie in 10th position. A regular member of the Germany squad, Jonas Hector is the key man for the club and he cemented his place in Köln folklore by signing a new contract with the club following their relegation in 2018 and driving the club to promotion.

Paderborn

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SC_Paderborn_07

Position: 18th

Star man: Dennis Srbeny

The last few seasons have been a real rollercoaster for Paderborn and their fans with promotion to the Bundesliga in 2013/14 season followed by relegation to the second division the following season and dropping further to the third division before climbing back up to the Bundesliga by securing promotion last season. Unless they can turn their fortunes around following the break it appears another short stay is on the cards, with Paderborn bottom of the table and ten points adrift of safety with nine games left to play.

RB Leipzig

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RB_Leipzig

Position: 3rd

Star man: Timo Werner

A club who divide opinion, Leipzig have climbed the leagues and become one of the most exciting teams in Europe with their high intensity football and array of talent. However, many football fans disagree with the way in which they have raced up the leagues due to a perceived bought success as a result of owners Red Bull. Timo Werner provides the goals and is one of the most in demand forwards in Europe with Liverpool constantly linked with a move for the German striker.

SC Freiburg

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SC_Freiburg

Position: 8th

Star man: Nils Petersen

SC Freiburg are having a strong season and have a real chance of securing a Europa League qualification stage spot if they can continue in the same vein when play resumes. Their fans will be enjoying this season as traditionally they are very much a yo-yo club between the first and second division. This has lead to their fan’s in the 1990s coining the chant “We go down , we go up, we go into the UEFA Cup”. They will be hoping the goals of Nils Peterson can fire them into the UEFA Cup’s modern-day equivalent the Europa League.

Vfl Wolfsburg

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/VfL_Wolfsburg

Position: 7th

Star man: Wout Weghorst

VfL Wolfsburg are another club with a strong chance of securing a Europa League spot, currently one point behind Schalke in 6th and ahead of SC Freiburg on goal difference. Dutch striker Wout Weghorst tends to supply the goals and the 2008/09 Bundesliga champions will be relishing a return to football for what should be an exciting end to the season.

Werder Bremen

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SV_Werder_Bremen

Position: 17th

Star man: Milot Rashica

For a club that has won the Bundesliga on four occasions and reached the final of the last edition of the Uefa Cup in 2009 languishing in 17th position is an unfortunate fall from grace for Werder Bremen. Their fans are more used to seeing their club at least finishing in the top half of the table but five losses in their last five games before the season was halted shows why they are in the trouble they are in. One bright spark has been Kosovo international Milot Rashica who has scored seven and assisted four, either from the wing or just off the main striker.