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2021/22: 5 Young Players That Could Take the Premier League by Storm

With the 2021/22 season fast approaching, Premier League sides have begun their pre-season preparations. A combination of major international tournaments, such as Euro 2020 and Copa América, plus the financial impact of the Covid pandemic, have meant that the transfer market has been relatively slow to date.

Jadon Sancho has finally completed his big-money move to Manchester United, after intense speculation, and there is still time for plenty of movement in the market. However, a number of clubs in the Premier League may have to trust in players that are already at the club; due to the difficulty they are facing in completing deals. This may mean we see more young players given the freedom to perform in the Premier League. The following five young players are all very inexperienced in top flight football, but could be set to have impressive seasons.

Nathan Tella

Age: 22

Club: Southampton

Premier League Apps: 19

In comparative terms, Nathan Tella is the most experienced Premier League player of the five highlighted, with 18 top flight appearances to his name. However, he is by no stretch of the imagination an established Premier League footballer, with the majority of his appearances coming in the second half of last season. In fact, 11 of his 19 appearances have been off the bench.

Tella left the youth set-up at Arsenal in 2017 and, after trials at Norwich City and Reading, joined Southampton as an 18-year old. Despite his obvious talents, he had to bide his time before his first Premier League start, in a 3-0 home defeat to Leeds United in February 2021. His direct running and desire to take on opposition defenders make him incredibly exciting to watch, and the rawness of his game means he is very difficult to play against. With opportunities increasing for Tella, there is great potential to kick on and become a regular feature in the Southampton first team.

The young winger has one goal and one assist to his name in his senior career to date and will be looking to add to that in the coming season. His goal came against Fulham late in the season and should do him the world of good going forward, as he often snatched at chances when getting into good positions prior to that. At times last season Tella looked desperate to impress and pressed with the youthful exuberance that manager Ralph Hasenhuttl will love. This does, though, mean he often looks fatigued around the 60 minute mark when he starts matches. With another Hasenhuttl pre-season under his belt, and a greater role in the squad, expect Tella to get fans on the edge of their seat far more frequently in 2021/22.

Marc Guehi

Age: 21

Club: Crystal Palace

Premier League Apps: 0

Marc Guehi is a young player on this list who has benefitted greatly from the loan system and moving outside of the Premier League. The central defender has spent the past eighteen months on loan at Championship club Swansea City, where he has gone from strength to strength. Guehi made 52 league appearances for Swansea in his two loan spells, and nothing emphasised his influence more than the fact that he was the only ever-present member of Swansea’s backline last season in a campaign that ended in play-off heartbreak.

Swansea were very much interested in taking Guehi to south Wales for a third consecutive season, but Guehi was ready to tackle the Premier League and play-off failure meant that Swansea couldn’t provide this opportunity. He could have stayed at Chelsea and hoped for some first team opportunities, but instead decided to make the move to Crystal Palace where he should find first team football easier to come by.

The fee of £18 million that Palace paid Chelsea for his services in July shows just how highly the England U21 defender is regarded. The fact that Chelsea also included the option to match any future bid for Guehi shows that they feel he has enormous potential, even if they couldn’t offer him the playing time he craves just yet.

In terms of playing style, Guehi is very physical and strong, and has great athleticism which is incredibly useful for a central defender. He is not just brawn however, he is a clever defender who can do the technical side of the game and always favours a pass out from the back over a long ball to a striker. It is a shame for Palace and for Guehi that it looks unlikely that Gary Cahill will re-sign with the club after the expiration of his contract, as Guehi could have learnt so many valuable lessons from the former Chelsea man. However, despite being part of a new-look Palace with a focus on youth, there are still plenty of experienced defenders for Guehi to learn from.

Oliver Skipp

Age: 20

Club: Tottenham Hotspur

Premier League Apps: 15

Oliver Skipp has 15 Premier League appearances to his name, all of which have been for Tottenham Hotspur who he has been with since the age of 12. Skipp made his first-team debut in 2018 in an EFL Cup victory over West Ham United in October 2018, with his Premier League debut coming a matter of days later against Southampton. The central midfielder tends to play a deeper, more defensive role, and is highly rated at Tottenham.

Skipp was allowed to leave on loan last summer, but not before he had signed a new four-year deal. The contract signalled Tottenham’s intent and highlighted the potential that the club’s hierarchy believe he has. He impressed Mauricio Pochettino enough to be taken on a pre-season tour of America at 17 and went on to impress Jose Mourinho, who is notoriously hard to please, who said of Skipp after he had signed his contract: “I think he’s genuinely Tottenham’s future”.

After a year on loan at Norwich City, Skipp will be hoping he can now be Tottenham’s present. The England U21 international was pivotal to Norwich’s promotion campaign last season, playing 45 of the Canaries’ 46 league matches. He managed just one goal in that time but his role revolved around retrieving possession and dictating the tempo of games, rather than bursting forward. Skipp showed why he is so highly thought of at Tottenham, and why they were so keen to secure his future prior to sending him on loan, as he secured a place in the 2021 PFA Championship Team of the Year. It won’t be easy to break into the Tottenham midfield, especially as new manager Nuno Espírito Santo will be under pressure to get results straight away. However, with a year playing week-in week-out for Norwich under his belt, given a chance this season, Skipp could soon become a regular starter for Spurs.

Jayson Molumby

Age: 21

Club: Brighton

Premier League Apps: 1

Brighton are a club that try to play an attractive brand of football under manager Graham Potter. One man that could benefit from that, as well as potential departures from the club, is 21-year old Irishman Jayson Molumby. Despite the fact that Molumby has already played nine times for the Republic of Ireland senior side, he has only made a solitary Premier League appearance; coming off the bench in a 2-1 Brighton win over Aston Villa in November 2020.

This appearance off the bench could have kickstarted Molumby’s Premier League career, but instead he found himself sent out on loan to Championship club Preston North End in January. While this won’t have been the fairy tale scenario Molumby may have dreamt of following his first Premier League appearance, it was perhaps a necessary one to ensure the midfielder continued to develop. The 15 Championship appearances he made for Preston, in addition to the 36 for Millwall a season earlier, would have benefitted him far more than watching on from Brighton’s bench.

With two Championship loans in the rear view mirror, Molumby can now look forward and try to make it extremely difficult for Potter to leave him out of the Brighton midfield. Molumby is very comfortable in possession and likes to try and break the lines with his probing passing, but is also not adverse to the less glamourous side of the game. Given a chance, he could make a real impact at the Amex this season and, if Brighton are to sell, could make Seagulls fans soon forget about Yves Bissouma.

Billy Gilmour

Age: 20

Club: Norwich City (on loan from Chelsea)

Premier League Apps: 11

Billy Gilmour burst onto the scene for Chelsea in an FA Cup game against Liverpool in February 2020. He had played previously for the senior side, coming off the bench in the Premier League and being involved in their EFL Cup campaign that season, but it was in this game where the football world took notice. Just 18 at the time, Gilmour lined up against a midfield of Fabinho, Adam Lallana, and Curtis Jones, and completely dominated the game from start to finish; seeming to particularly relish the battle with Fabinho.

Gilmour won Man of the Match that day, which is a feat he repeated on his full Scotland debut this summer against England in the Euro 2020 group stage. On the biggest of occasions Gilmour appears completely unfazed, which is a trait that will serve him well playing at a club of Chelsea’s stature. Despite being only 5 foot 7, Gilmour has many strings to his bow. He can be destructive and break up play, as his clubmate Kante does better than anyone in world football, but he also possesses an elegance on the ball and a passing range far greater than many players his senior.

Gilmour is following in the footsteps of Oliver Skipp and has joined Norwich City on loan for the new season. Although, unlike Skipp who played for Norwich in the Championship, this loan will provide Gilmour with regular football in the Premier League. Norwich play an attractive style of football under boss Daniel Farke which will have been a huge factor in both Gilmour’s and Chelsea’s decision to spend the season with them. However, Norwich’s aim will be simply to secure Premier League survival, which is a different world from the glamour of Chelsea, and this is where Gilmour’s ability to battle and do the dirty work could be invaluable. It will certainly be intriguing to see how the former Rangers academy graduate will develop at Carrow Road.

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How Football is at Risk of Losing its Great Entertainers

Football fans have always loved being entertained. Consequently, the players who aspire to do this have always been adored. The likes of George Best, Thierry Henry, Johan Cruyff, and Ronaldinho are prime examples of players who have done this at the elite level and are remembered with great adoration and fondness in the football world.

Even players that never quite cut the elite but show a desire to entertain and get fans off their seats are always spoken of fondly. The likes of Adel Taarabt, Yannick Bolasie, and even the lesser spotted Jay Emmanuel-Thomas have special places in nostalgic fans’ hearts due to their desire to entertain. After all, football is supposed to be fun. However, in a changing football landscape with statistics, efficiency, and, ultimately, winning at its core, is football losing its great entertainers?

The Shift

Football should be watched with the eyes. Ultimately, football is entertainment and an element of that seems to be being lost in the modern era. That’s not to say football is not entertaining. It is perhaps more fast-paced and competitive than it has ever been, and the remit for the majority of teams in at least Europe’s top five leagues is to play attractive football; although this often goes out of the window when a relegation battle looms. It is the individuality that has perhaps been lost. The theatre of showboating, the drama of risking a trick when a pass is a simpler, safer, option.

Showboating has often been branded as arrogance, and to a certain extent it is, but is there anything wrong with that? When Cristiano Ronaldo first came to the Premier League as a skinny teenager, he made fans around the country take notice through his confidence and, at times, sheer audacity. He would stand up players far more experienced and with far more standing in the game at the time and proceed to tease them with his quick feet and multiple step overs, often with the simple aim of making his opponent look foolish. Many hate it, you get abuse off of rival fans, but you are entertaining the masses, and your own fan base will love you for it if used at the right time. Ronaldo soon learnt when the right time was however, and there is no doubt that the early confidence displayed when he first came to English shores has allowed him to elevate himself to the very top.

The showboating has faded from his game, with Ronaldo recognising that to get the number of goals he craves so dearly then he must sacrifice his work outside the box. In doing this he has become arguably the most devastating goalscorer in history. Ronaldo’s career can almost be counted as two careers; one as a tricky winger and the other as a ruthless centre forward who does all his work in the width of the 18-yard box.

Ronaldo evolved, as football did, to focus more on statistics and records. This is where the shift lies. Football has never been as analysed and as watched as it is now. There are more games on television than ever before, more coverage of matches than ever, and more analysis than ever. 15 to 20 years ago, assists were barely a factor of conversation. An individual assist may be applauded by fans but there wasn’t the running total and tallying up of assists as there is now. Attackers were discussed in terms of goals and goals only. Now there are not only assists, which are often combined with goals to create ‘goal contributions’, but also expected goals (xG) which players are also assessed against. This is a statistic based on how likely a player is to score a chance in a game. If a player is scoring less than the xG then they are seen as underperforming of course, but if there goal tally is higher we are led to believe they are performing above and beyond how they are predicted to in terms of output. This is, of course, far from an exact science and is constantly being revolutionised, but is a prime example of the shift to statistics and analysis in football.

These statistics are often manipulated to provide a desired narrative. If you are making a case for a certain player, a striker for instance, then saying that they have ‘15 goal contributions’ sounds far better than ‘they’ve scored ten goals this season’. On the other hand, it can be used as a stick to beat a player with. A player can have an impressive season which is recognised by those that regularly watch them. However, what if their stats don’t reflect that? The narrative is then almost too easy to shape. For example, in the 2019/20 season, Emiliano Bundía of Norwich City was in inspired form but was ultimately unable to help keep the Canaries in the Premier League. He finished the season with seven league assists but just the one goal. Eight goal involvements across a 38 game season. However, Buendía was playing in a poor side that finished bottom of the league and found goals hard to come by. If you wanted to switch the narrative though, Buendía created the fourth most chances in the league that season despite the fact he played in the worst team in the division. Buendía is a very talented player, anyone that watches him can see that, but statistics could lead you to believe he has performed disappointingly in the Premier League to date. It will be interesting to see if his numbers improve following his transfer to Aston Villa ahead of the new season.

Efficiency is Key

Football finds itself in a strange position. It is arguably more results driven than it has ever been, such are the fine financial margins. The difference in income of just one league position alone can have a huge impact on a club, let alone the difference between getting relegated, or qualifying for the Champions League, for example. And yet, despite the cut-throat, result-oriented nature of the industry, the emphasis on entertainment and style of play is more prominent than ever before. However, this takes the form of a team responsibility more than it does on individual moments of brilliance. A goal kick used to be a long punt upfield to a tall striker. Now it is viewed by most as an opportunity to start an attack: playing short to a defender in the six-yard box who then draws in an attacking player to press him before moving the ball on, thus creating gaps in the opposition.

While there is an emphasis on attractive football, there is still a growing clamour for efficiency. This is where statistics and analysis rear their heads once more. The old saying goes ‘your opponents can’t score if they don’t have the ball’. This rings true now more than ever, with possession often perceived as dominance. Whilst this may often be the case, there are anomalies. Teams who are very comfortable to concede the bulk of possession in favour of springing counter-attacks on their opponents. They may not have the ball, but they are in control. Leicester City won their 2015/2016 Premier League title with this very principle. They were about as efficient as a team can be, often having around 30-40% possession in their odds-defying season.

Leicester’s efficiency with the ball was the key. In a world of expected goals, statistics and hyper-analysis, ways to improve efficiency are the pot of gold. If a team is scoring at a rate equal to, or higher than, their xG then they will win more often than not. Performing below their xG and they will drop a lot of points in games where they are the dominant team. Brighton have been the perfect example of this under Graham Potter. Easy on the eye, the Seagulls create numerous chances but lack the cutting edge to finish them off.

Players are coached to keep possession of the ball, even if it means playing backwards and starting again. By recycling the ball, a team can start again in their bid to pull their opponents out of shape and find spaces to attack. This could, of course, be done by manipulating space to beat a defender with a piece of skill as we have seen from countless great entertainers of the past. However, if you are playing the percentages, this has a lower success rate than keeping the ball; even if it means retreating further from the opponent’s goal.

Similarly, putting the ball into the box from a cross often yields more success than trying to thread a ball through the last line of defence. Even if a cross into the box is initially unsuccessful, the second ball can drop to an attacking player. Therefore, the likelihood of creating a chance is greater from a cross, whether that be directly or indirectly. Crossing has been seen as something of a dying art in recent years but, used correctly, can be incredibly useful. Burnley are one side in the Premier League who thrive off of playing the percentages of crossing the ball and picking up second balls, wreaking havoc in the opposition box.

Even shooting from range appears to be becoming increasingly less common. Again, going back to statistics and the emphasis placed on data analysts within football clubs, the data will show you are more likely to be successful the closer to goal you get. It seems obvious and, in a way it is, but football is a game played with emotion and when the crowd are simultaneously shouting ‘shoot’ it’s a difficult demand to ignore. Though if a player has been shown data that only 12% of their shots from over 25 yards hit the target, for example, then they may think twice before trying from range. That’s not to say a defender striding into midfield is always able to resist the urge to shoot wildly from range, but it does seem to be becoming less common. How many of the great goals would we be deprived of if the game was played purely based on probability. It must be re-iterated that football is, ultimately, entertainment. It can be analysed, broken down into statistics, shown in graph format, but the human nature of wanting to excite is something that should always be encouraged. Football fans always loved a maverick entertainer, and they always will.

Neymar Last of a Dying Breed?

So, in this new age where statistics rule the roust, are football’s great entertainers at risk of becoming extinct? Arguably, Neymar is the last of a dying breed. He is a player with remarkable output, but the thing that makes him so enjoyable to watch is his incredible ability with the ball at his feet. He seems to be able to invent skills as he goes to get himself out of the tightest of situations. At the start of his career he was labelled a show pony; someone who did skills for the sake of doing them without the end product. He was even called a ‘YouTube footballer’ by Joey Barton on Twitter as he started making a name for himself. What is the problem, though, with making football entertaining to all who watch you? With Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez to guide him, he became far more effective at Barcelona, in what is arguably the best front three of all time. The skills remained, but Neymar was producing goals and assists for fun and winning titles.

Neymar divides opinion. While his close control and ability is pure theatre, his theatrics when fouled are difficult for fans to accept. He is a product of the great Ronaldinho, although Ronaldinho spent far less time rolling around the ground. Ronaldinho was adored and genuinely seemed to have fun every time he stepped onto a football pitch. He is best remembered for his wide, beaming, smile while playing. It goes back to the point that football is supposed to be fun. In the mid-2000s there were few fans in world football who would argue that Ronaldinho was the most entertaining player to watch. If he played now, however, his statistics would no doubt be used as a weapon in any argument against him. Ronaldinho was far more than statistics and they could never tell the full story. That’s not to say his statistics weren’t good, in fact they were still very impressive. In his prime at Barcelona Ronaldinho managed 70 league goals in 145 games, as well as 33 goals in 97 appearances for his country. Considering Ronaldinho was a winger, these are impressive numbers.

Historically, Brazil have always been the most intriguing country to watch. The natural ability on display always feels like a treat to watch and, for football purists, it is how the game should be played. Whenever a team plays good football or attacks with flair it is always the phrase ‘it’s just like watching Brazil’ that is used. Pele, Sócrates, Garrincha, Kaka, Ronaldo Nazário, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho. All great names who won a great deal of honours, but always entertained on the way.

Today though, even Brazil don’t play like Brazil. The flair is still there to see on occasion, but they are far more pragmatic, as modern football has taken its hold. It used to be that every member of a Brazil squad would be able to do outrageous things with the ball at their feet. From centre back to centre forward, the natural ability was astonishing. Yet now it has almost been coached out of the players. In this summer’s Copa America, Brazil played the majority of the tournament with two holding midfielders and ultimately lost 1-0 in the final to Argentina. The great Brazil sides of the past would blow teams away and win titles by trusting their superior ability on the ball against all who faced them. The samba flair was not compromised en route to major trophies.

Will we see a Brazil team with the natural flair of years gone by again, or has the modern obsessions with statistics, clean sheets, and winning at all costs meant that conservatism is regarded more highly? Maybe this is just a baron period of talent in Brazil and their hand is forced by the players they have available. However, it does look as though Neymar is one of the last flag bearers of the great entertainers at the very top level. In this world of statistics, hyper-analysis, xG and the likes is there a place for the Ronaldinho’s and the like? Football is at risk of becoming far less fun without them.

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Every Current Premier League Club’s Record Signing

With the European Championship now in full flow, and at the forefront of people’s attention, the transfer window has taken something of a back seat. However, there are still the inevitable rumours circulating the gossip columns, and clubs all around the world will be casting an eye over any talent that could emerge in this summer’s tournament. The futures of the likes of Harry Kane, Jadon Sancho, and Erling Haaland are very much up for discussion, and will all cost astronomical transfer fees. With this in mind, this post reviews every Premier League team’s record transfer signing.

Arsenal

Record Signing: Nicolas Pépé (£72 million)

Arsenal spent a huge £72 million to bring Nicolas Pépé to The Emirates in 2019 from the young- talent conveyor belt at Lille. Since signing he has flattered to deceive, finding himself in and out of the team, and at one point being completely out of Mikel Arteta’s plans. Arteta has since given the Ivorian a fresh start and he has shown glimpses of his talent, but Arsenal will still be expecting a far greater return on their investment in the forthcoming seasons.

Aston Villa

Record Signing: Emiliano Buendía (£34.6 million)

At the time of writing, Aston Villa are the most recent side to break their transfer record, with the £34.6 million signing of Argentinian Emiliano Buendía just last week. This signing was a real signal of Villa’s intent and ambition, as they reportedly beat Arsenal to signing the creative winger from newly promoted Norwich City. Buendía was arguably the best player in the Championship last season, with his 15 goals and 16 assists an integral part of the Canaries’ promotion. In the 2019/20 Premier League season, despite Norwich’s struggles, he created 83 chances; the fourth of any player in the league that season.

Brentford

Record Signing: Ollie Watkins (£6.5 million)

Brentford’s recruitment business model has been the envy of a number of clubs in recent seasons. The Bees have been particularly proficient when signing strikers relatively cheaply, who then score a hatful of goals for the club, before moving on for a sizeable fee. Ollie Watkins is the prime example of this and, remarkably, is still their record signing at £6.5 million. This is expected to be broken this summer, due to the expectation of improving the squad for their first ever Premier League season, but the fact that Watkins was sold onto Aston Villa for just over £30 million shows how shrewd their business was. Watkins was signed from Exeter City, and Brentford again looked to leagues below them when signing Ivan Toney from Peterborough United for £5 million in 2020. 33 goals and ten assists in his debut campaign later, and Brentford are a Premier League club.

Brighton & Hove Albion

Record Signing: Neal Maupay/Adam Webster (£20 million)

Brighton have two players that hold the title of record signing at the club. Neal Maupay is another member of the ever-growing contingent of former Brentford strikers in the Premier League, while Adam Webster joined from Bristol City in 2019. Both have been relatively successful at the club, with Webster a regular in the Brighton back line and Maupay perhaps Brighton’s most potent striker. Maupay has had some controversial moments however, and has been dropped at times due to his attitude.

Burnley

Record Signing: Ben Gibson (£15.2 million)

Burnley are notoriously shrewd with their money and the majority of their transfers reflect that. However, the signing of Ben Gibson is one of the anomalies in this trend. In 2018, Burnley parted with £15.2 million to sign Gibson from Middlesbrough. It seemed a strange signing at the time due to the impressive form of Ben Mee and James Tarkowski at centre back but, having lost Michael Keane a year earlier, it was perhaps logical to sign an additional central defender. Gibson has managed just one Premier League appearance for the Clarets and has had spells away from the club on loan. Gibson looks set to leave permanently this summer and will go down as a costly mistake.

Chelsea

Record Signing: Kai Havertz/Kepa Arrizabalaga (£72 million)

Chelsea are notorious for spending large sums to improve their squad and have a large turnover of players, as well as managers. Roman Abramovic has twice spent £72 million on a player, first on goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga in 2018, and then on Kai Havertz last summer. Arrizabalaga is still the world’s most expensive goalkeeper ever but, after experiencing huge dips in form under Frank Lampard, has since been ousted as first choice goalkeeper by the much cheaper Edouard Mendy.

Havertz, on the other hand, has seen his role grow increasingly since signing. The 22-year old took a while to adapt to a new country and a new league, made more difficult from the Covid-19 pandemic, but became more integral to the side following the appointment of compatriot Thomas Tuchel as manager. By scoring the winner in the 1-0 Champions League final victory over Manchester City, many Chelsea fans would suggest that he has already repaid that fee. Havertz himself is keen to not be constantly associated with his transfer fee and when asked about the large fee that brought him to Chelsea following the final win, exclaimed: “I don’t give a f*ck about that, we just won the f*cking Champions League!”.

Crystal Palace

Record Signing: Christian Benteke (£28 million)

When Christian Benteke signed for Liverpool from Aston Villa for £32.5 million in 2015 it was generally considered a good signing. Benteke had run riot at Villa in his three seasons in the midlands, scoring 42 Premier League goals in 89 appearances. The Belgian striker would find his time on Merseyside tough however, and was never really trusted to lead the line for Liverpool. After nine league goals for Liverpool, Benteke was sold to Crystal Palace for £28 million. Jurgen Klopp had deemed him surplus to requirements after just one season.

Benteke has been at Crystal Palace ever since 2016, and has managed 31 league goals in 137 appearances for the Eagles. He has often looked a shadow of the player that bullied strikers and found goals easy to come by at Villa, his confidence perhaps damaged beyond repair at Liverpool. Despite a number of baron spells at Palace, Benteke has often retained his place in the starting eleven, particularly under the recently departed Roy Hodgson. The striker’s contract was due to expire this summer, but Benteke rolled back the years to have a fruitful spell in front of goal towards the end of the season to convince the club to give him a new deal. Palace fans will be hoping this form continues into the new season, and wasn’t just to secure the deal.

Everton

Record Signing: Gylfi Sigurdsson (£44.5 million)

Everton spent £44.5 million to prise Gylfi Sigurdsson away from his second spell at Swansea City in 2017. This was something of a gamble considering an underwhelming spell at Tottenham Hotspur between 2012 to 2014, where the Iceland international managed only eight league goals. Since signing for Everton, Sigurdsson has been inconsistent at best, and disappointing at worst. He has struggled to secure a guaranteed spot in the starting eleven under any manager consistently and, when you consider his price tag, has been unable to recapture his Swansea form.

Under Ancelotti, more recently, Sigurdsson had been playing a deeper role than he had been accustomed to. Despite this, 25 league goals in 136 games for Everton is not the best of records; especially when you consider he has scored the same number of goals in just 78 games for his country.

Leeds United

Record Signing: Rodrigo (£27 million)

When Leeds United announced the signing of Rodrigo, following their promotion to the Premier League last summer, it was seen as a major coup for the Yorkshire club. Rodrigo is a Spain international who is a very intelligent player with a cultured left foot. Despite his 28 international caps, the striker has never been prolific, with 16 league goals in the 2018/19 season at Valencia the best haul of his career.

The draw of charismatic manager Marcelo Bielsa, coupled with his unique, all-action approach, proved enough to lure Rodrigo to Leeds. Seven goals and three assists in his debut season is perhaps not the return Leeds fans would have hoped for, with Rodrigo costing the club £27 million, however they will be hoping there is more to come from the Spaniard who struggled with injuries following the move.

Leicester City

Record Signing: Youri Tielemens (£40.5 million)

Youri Tielemens joined Leicester City on loan from AS Monaco in January 2019, as part of a deal that saw Adrien Silva move in the opposite direction. Six months later, and Leicester had been suitably convinced to part with £40.5 million to make the deal permanent. Tielemens had impressed so much in his short time in the Premier League that there were a number of clubs circulating to try and convince Tielemens that his future lay elsewhere. The young Belgian decided to stay where he had thrived on loan, and it has proved a fruitful decision for both club and player.

Tielemens has grown into one of the Premier League’s best midfielders, and has established himself as a guaranteed starter for Belgium. His arrowed strike from range into the top left corner in the FA Cup final against Chelsea was the pinnacle of his career to date, and ensured Leicester won their first ever FA Cup. This summer there will undoubtedly be a number of top clubs once again looking to sign Tielemens, but the 24 year-old isn’t expected to be in any rush to leave. However, if he was to leave, Leicester would be able to command a figure far higher that the £40.5 million they paid for his services in 2019.

Liverpool

Record Signing: Virgil Van Dijk (£76 million)

The signing of Virgil Van Dijk from Southampton in January 2018 completely transformed Liverpool’s defence. Many balked at the £76 million fee at the time, but three years on and no one is questioning the business any longer. A Champions League and Premier League win have followed since his arrival, and the giant Dutchman’s influence on these honours cannot be overstated. The fact that Liverpool were so poor in defending their Premier League title in his absence through injury last season is testament to the impact he has on the team. If Van Dijk is fit next season then expect Liverpool to be a completely different side with him back in it.

Manchester City

Record Signing: Kevin De Bruyne (£68.4 million)

Manchester City were mocked by rival fans when they spent £68.4 million on perceived ‘Chelsea flop’ Kevin De Bruyne in 2015. Having spent 18 months at VFL Wolfsburg in Germany, following his ill-fated spell at Chelsea, De Bruyne was back in the Premier League, and ready to show Chelsea what they had missed out on. Since then his game has gone from strength to strength and the Belgian attacking midfielder has become City’s talisman. With his passing ability key to his ability to provide assists to his teammates, and his eye for goal, De Bruyne is now widely regarded as the best midfield player in the world. Three Premier League titles, one FA Cup triumph, and five League Cup titles show that De Bruyne was right to make the move to Manchester.

Manchester United

Record Signing: Paul Pogba (£94.5 million)

In 2012, Paul Pogba left Manchester United for free, having only made three Premier League appearances. Four years later, and the French midfielder returned after signing for £94.5 million from Italian giants Juventus. In that time he had established himself as one of the most exciting midfielders in the world and his re-signing was met with jubilation from fans of Manchester United. However, since then he has been a figure that has divided the Red Devils’ fan base. Many feel that he has flattered to deceive, with his performances and statistics falling well short of the expectation his price tag brought. On the other hand, many fans feel that he is a genuinely world-class player who has been held back by a lack of real quality around him and poor management; particularly from Jose Mourinho, who many feel made Pogba a scapegoat for poor results.

A happy Pogba is generally a good Pogba and he is a player that really thrives when playing for his country. Alongside N’Golo Kante, Pogba often dazzles in a deep-lying playmaker role. However, United have struggled to find a way to get the best out of him, and the signing of a holding midfielder could well be the solution. Pogba’s future is the subject of a lot of speculation this summer and United fans are likely to be torn between keeping the enigmatic midfielder or cashing in and using the funds to strengthen elsewhere.

Newcastle United

Record Signing: Joelinton (£39.6 million)

When Newcastle United paid just under £40 million for Joelinton most fans of the club would have been pinching themselves. Years of mismanagement by owner Mike Ashley had led to the club’s fans becoming so disillusioned with the club that the idea of spending a significant amount of money on one player seemed unfathomable. Unfortunately for the club though, that investment appears misguided.

Six Premier League goals in 69 appearances is a really poor return from a striker of whom so much was expected. The Brazilian striker has never been prolific, with his highest league goal haul in a single season being eight while on loan at Rapid Wien, so the fee paid seemed a surprise at the time. Since signing, Joelinton has unfortunately showed few signs of justifying that fee. He works hard and pops up with the occasional goal but so much more was expected upon his arrival.

Norwich City

Record Signing: Steven Naismith/Timm Klose (£9.9 million)

Norwich City are the epitome of a yo-yo club. The Canaries regularly fluctuate between the Championship and the Premier League, and perhaps their record signings reflect that status. The Norfolk club do not threaten their financial future by throwing money at Premier League survival. An admirable approach that, unfortunately, invariably means they struggle to survive when they do get to the top tier.

Recently retired Steven Naismith and current squad member Timm Klose share the club’s record transfer fee of £9.9 million, with the two players signed within a day of each other in January 2016. Klose spent last season on loan at FC Basel in his homeland, and it is unclear if he has a future at Norwich. Despite Norwich’s cautious approach to recruitment it wouldn’t be a surprise if their record transfer fee is broken this summer in order to give them a better chance of survival.

Southampton

Record Signing: Jannik Vestergaard (£22.5 million)

Southampton spent £22.5 million to bring in Jannik Vestergaard from Borussia Mönchengladbach in 2018. had it not been for the past 18 months, you could easily have been forgiven for thinking the Danish centre back had been a flop. However, he has improved drastically in recent times, and now the towering defender has proven himself to be a very technically gifted defender. His aerial prowess in both boxes has been a real asset for Southampton in the past 18 months, and his passing ability means that he is responsible for starting the majority of his side’s attacks, whether that be a pass into the midfield or a long, raking, diagonal ball to a teammate.

Vestergaard only has one year left on his contract and has been linked with a move away from St Mary’s this summer. Despite his contract situation, it would still be a surprise if Southampton receive less than they paid for the defender if they are to sell.

Tottenham Hotspur

Record Signing: Tanguy Ndombele (£54 million)

The £54 million signing of Tanguy Ndombele by Tottenham Hotspur was met with a great deal of surprise. Not because Ndombele was not seen as being worthy of the fee, but because Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy notoriously drives a very hard bargain in transfer negotiations. Since signing in 2019, Ndombele has had his troubles with form and fitness, the latter issue one that Jose Mourinho was very vocal on in his first season in charge. However, last season the tricky French central midfielder, with an unorthodox playing style, showed his quality. Ndombele started to look like the player that Tottenham fans had thought that they had signed and showed that he has real potential. If he can continue to improve, and become more consistent in his performances, then he could become a real fan favourite at Tottenham.

Watford

Record Signing: Ismaïla Sarr (£27 million)

It seems crazy to think that Ismaïla Sarr was a Championship player last season, especially after spending the 2020 summer transfer window linked with a move to Liverpool. Ironically, the game that Sarr is most recognised for in his career to date is scoring a brace in a 3-0 Watford win over Liverpool to end their 44 game unbeaten run in the league. Sarr was electric that day, and comparisons with compatriot Sadio Mane look to have some real foundations. Watford may have only managed to keep hold of Sarr last season due to the financial implications of Covid-19, but the winger was instrumental in the Hornets return to the top flight at the first time of asking, with 13 goals and four assists.

West Ham United

Record Signing: Sébastien Haller (£45 million)

West Ham United have had their troubles with strikers in recent seasons, and they have also had more than their fair share of failed transfers. When Sébastien Haller was signed from Eintracht Frankfurt in summer 2020, West Ham fans would have been forgiven for thinking this was the end of their poor recruitment in attack. They would have been wrong. Despite Haller managing 15 league goals in 29 appearances the previous season at Frankfurt, he would only manage ten Premier League goals before being sold on to Ajax 18 months after joining the Hammers. What made this far worse, however, was that Haller was sold to Ajax for just £20.25 million; less than half of what West Ham had paid for his services in 2019. An expensive mistake from a side whose recruitment appears to have improved drastically since

Wolverhampton Wanderers

Record Signing: Fábio Silva (£36 million)

Wolves’ transfer strategy has been a strange but effective one in recent years. The club work very closely with agent Jorge Mendes and he brings them a lot of young talent, mostly from his native Portugal. In recent seasons the club have signed Ruben Neves, Joao Moutinho, Pedro Neto, Diogo Jota, and Nelson Semedo, to name just a few. Last summer the club broke their record transfer fee to sign 18-year old Fábio Silva for £36 million from Porto, despite the fact the striker had only made 12 first-team league appearances for the Portuguese club.

Signed very much for the future, Silva was thrust into the spotlight as Wolves’ only first team striker following the head injury to Raul Jiminez early in the season. The striker showed glimpses of his talent but struggled in a new league at such a young age, managing only four league goals in 32 appearances. However, with Jiminez expected to be back next season, and thus less pressure on the youngster’s shoulders, expect to see a player growing in confidence and stature over the coming years.

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The Potential Dark Horses For Euro 2020

With the postponed 2020 UEFA European Championship now a week away, attention to the tournament is starting to intensify. Teams are playing the last of their pre-tournament friendlies and there is the usual frenzy of speculation on whether players will be fit, who should start for each country, and who will, ultimately, win the tournament.

The Euros are often perceived as more difficult to win than the World Cup, due to the strength of every side in the tournament. The likes of France, Portugal, England and Belgium are all heavily tipped to be successful in the weeks that follow. However, what about the sides with less expectation from outside their own nation. The dark horses of the tournament, who could cause a shock and travel deep into the latter stages of the tournament. Is there a team that could emulate the heroics of Greece in 2004, who navigated their way to the final, and stunned the world by beating host-nation, Portugal, 1-0 in their own tournament. This post explores the country’s that could have the capability of being the dark horses of the competition this summer.

Turkey

Expected Line-up:

Turkey should be entering the tournament full of confidence, having qualified ahead of Iceland, and only two points off of World Champions, France. Their tournament curtain raiser against Italy will provide a real test and will be an indicator of whether they can cause the big teams problems this summer. Four points against France in qualifying would emphatically suggest they very much can, and they will be looking to recreate unforgettable moments, such as the 2-0 home win over the French in qualifying, against Italy.

They are by no means guaranteed to qualify from a tough group involving Switzerland and Wales, as well as Italy. Though, if they manage to successfully navigate the group stage, then they should provide a stern test for whoever they face in the knockout stages. The current crop will be looking to recreate the magic of 2008, where Turkey reached the semi-final of the Euros, before a heartbreaking 90th minute Philipp Lahm goal saw them lose 3-2 to Germany. They were dubbed the comeback kings of the tournament and they will need to show similar resilience to succeed in their efforts this time around.

Burak Yilmaz will lead the line, following an impressive season for Lille. In his maiden season in France, at the ripe old age of 35, the striker managed 16 goals and five assists in the league en route to securing an unlikely league title. Hakan Calhanoglu will provide creativity and flair in midfield, and is finally starting to realise his potential after impressing for AC Milan this season. In defence Leicester City stalwart Caglar Soyuncu will likely be partnered by Juventus’ Merih Demiral, which has the foundations of a solid partnership. Turkey’s strength comes in their unity as a squad and they could well be one to watch in the tournament.

Ukraine

Expected Line-up:

Led by former AC Milan striker and icon of Ukrainian football, Andriy Shevchenko, Ukraine stormed to first place in their qualifying group. A feat made all the more impressive by the fact that they finished ahead of much-fancied Portugal, and a Serbia side that boasts a host of top players. It is difficult to decide between a 2-1 home win over Portugal or a 5-0 rout of Serbia as the country’s finest moment in qualifying. The results were equally impressive for different reasons, and show that Ukraine could be a real threat this summer. The win over Portugal showed their desire to do the less glamorous parts of the game and ability to go toe to toe with the big boys, while the thrashing of Serbia showed their attacking prowess. In a group that includes Netherlands, Austria, and North Macedonia, Ukraine will have to show both sides of their game to advance.

Manchester City’s Olexandr Zinchenko is the biggest name in the squad, and was a key part of their memorable qualifying campaign. Fans of the Premier League have grown accustomed to seeing Zinchenko play as a left back, however he is naturally a midfielder, and plays this role for his country. With his ability on the ball he plays either as an attacking midfielder or centre midfielder where he can dictate the tempo for his side. However, there are threats elsewhere in the team. Striker Roman Yaremchuk scored 20 goals and provided seven assists in the league for Gent in Belgium this season, while English fans know all about Andriy Yarmolenko’s left-foot. Shevchenko scored a remarkable 48 goals in 111 appearances for his country to secure hero status. Could this summer be the time for a new hero to emerge for Ukraine?

Italy

Expected Line-up:

It may seem strange to label Italy a dark horse for a major tournament. However, their failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup has meant that few are speaking of them as being in contention to win the Euros this summer. Since Roberto Mancini took charge, following the disappointment of missing out in 2018, the Azzurri’s fortunes have changed.

Italy stormed through qualification. They achieved the maximum possible points by winning their ten games, scoring 37 goals and conceding just four in the process. Their defensive resilience will be crucial if they are to be successful this summer. Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci are battle-hardened veterans, who know all there is to know about the art of defending. The midfield is full of quality, with Marco Verratti, Jorginho, and Nicola Barella likely to be the three chosen. In attack, Federico Chiesa and Lorenzo Insigne should provide the width, with Lazio talisman, Ciro Immobile, expected to be the main striker. If Immobile can recreate his club form he could be a lethal threat in the tournament. However, at 31, he is yet to replicate his club form at international level. The striker scored 20 league goals for his club this season, but has only managed 12 in 45 appearances for his country since his debut in 2014.

While Italy will undoubtedly be very difficult to beat and have quality throughout their side, their downfall could be their lack of creativity. The midfield has players who keep the ball moving and perform very well but neither Verratti, Jorginho, nor Barella offer much in terms of goals and assists from deep. Therefore, it will be down to Insigne and Chiesa to provide the supply line if Immobile is to flourish in front of goal. Italy are not hotly tipped to win the tournament, but no one will be keen on the prospect of facing the 2006 World Cup winners this summer.

Denmark

Expected Line-up:

In 1992, Denmark caused one of the greatest underdog stories in major tournament history by winning Euro 92. This success was made all the more remarkable by the fact that Denmark hadn’t actually qualified for the tournament initially and were only involved due to the dismantling of Yugoslavia and their subsequent disqualification.

The current side limped to qualifying, with a 0-0 draw with Georgia a particularly poor result en route to finishing second in their group. They ultimately finished one point short of leaders Switzerland and three points ahead of Ireland to secure qualification and will be looking to improve in the main event this summer. The quality of their players was not reflected in their qualifying campaign, and recent victories over England and Iceland in the UEFA Nations League, and a draw with Germany in their first pre-tournament qualifier, show signs that they are now performing at a higher level.

With Kasper Schmeichel in goal, and a central defence that could include two of Simon Kjaer, Jannik Vestergaard, and Champions League winner Andreas Christensen, they should be difficult to break down. In midfield Tottenham Hotspur’s Pierre-Emile Höjbjerg and Borussia Dortmund’s Thomas Delaney should form a solid base to allow Christian Eriksen to play with more freedom and create opportunities. After a difficult season at Inter Milan, Eriksen could revive his career with a good tournament to his name.

Goals could be the problem for the Danes. Barcelona’s Martin Braithwaite has only scored two league goals for Barcelona this season, and only managed three in qualifying. RB Leipzig’s Yussef Poulsen and Nice’s Kasper Dolberg have also struggled in front of goal this season, with five and six goals respectively. Expect Denmark’s games to be tight contests with fine margins separating them from their opponents. Belgium will be favourites to win their group, but Russia will also pose a threat, and it is likely Denmark will have to beat both them and Finland to prevail.

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How Sheik Mansour’s Early Spending Set The Foundation For Manchester City’s Success

Manchester City have established themselves as one of the top clubs in world football. They have won the Premier League this season in remarkable fashion, especially considering they have played without a recognised striker for the majority of the campaign, and were eighth at Christmas. They have also won their fourth consecutive League Cup, with a 1-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur in the final.

The most important thing for City and their owners, however, is the fact that they have reached their first ever Champions League final. There is no denying that this has largely been a result of the money put into the club by Sheik Mansour and the Abu Dhabi United Group, but money cannot guarantee instant success. The pathway to this point, at the summit of world football, has included its fair share of misguided investments but, for the most part, City’s owners have looked to invest sensibly and have learnt from their mistakes over time. This is by far the most successful period in City’s history and the owners’ part in that cannot be overstated. This post looks at the first four transfer windows following Sheik Mansour’s takeover in August 2008, and how they set the foundations for the success that followed, culminating in City’s first ever Champions League final this season.

Summer 2008

First team signings (all fees from Transfermarkt):

  • Jô – £21.6 million
  • Robinho – £38.7 million
  • Pablo Zabaleta – £7.8 million
  • Vincent Kompany – £7.65 million
  • Tal Ben Haim – £5.76 million
  • Shaun Wright-Phillips – £10.13 million
  • Gláuber – free transfer

When Sheik Mansour arrived in August 2008 there was a real buzz about the club and a wider feeling that they were about to disrupt the traditional top four and, perhaps more importantly, their city rivals Manchester United. However, this couldn’t happen overnight. The club had finished 9th in the Premier League and ended the season with a dismal 8-1 defeat away to Middlesbrough. Former England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson had been in charge and was sacked by the previous ownership and replaced with Blackburn Rovers manager Mark Hughes.

City had started their recruitment for that summer before the Abu Dhabi United Group takeover, and had already invested reasonably heavily on new players. In fact, all but one of the players on the above list were signed prior to Sheik Mansour taking charge of the club. In the beginning, City had the money but not the guarantee of success of clubs that would pay similar fees and wages, and were understandably seen as a gamble by many players they pursued due to becoming one of the world’s richest clubs overnight. The club was suddenly linked with anyone and everyone in world football in a whirlwind end to the summer transfer window. Although, with time running out in the transfer window, for the most part they would have to rely on the signings that had already been made that summer.

The owners still wanted their marquee signing, however. Cue Robinho. The enigmatic Brazilian signed on transfer deadline day for £38.7 million from Real Madrid. This signing was met with huge excitement by City fans and Premier League fans alike, despite the fact it has widely been reported that Robinho was under the impression he was signing for rivals Manchester United.

The signing of Robinho was to prove disappointing. After a positive start he appeared to become more and more disillusioned with life in England. He would perform wonders in home matches when things were going well, but in tough away matches it was obvious he didn’t fancy it. This was a lesson to the owners moving forward and they sought players to improve the team in future, rather than perhaps to boost their egos and shirt sales.

Fellow Brazilian Jô also joined City’s ranks in the summer of 2008 for a £21.6 million fee and, like his compatriot, struggled to perform with any consistency. Tal Ben Haim would join from Chelsea but only go on to manage nine league appearances in his solitary season at the club. Shaun Wright-Phillips would return to the club where it all started for him after a three year spell at Chelsea and had a positive impact initially, before gradually being edged out of the side, and eventually sold to Queens Park Rangers in 2011.

However, there were some key signings in City’s summer 2008 forays into the transfer market, which helped set the foundations for a culture of success at the club. This happened to be two signings that went somewhat under the radar at the time: Pablo Zabaleta and Vincent Kompany. Both joined for a fee of around £8 million each, and both would go on to play a key part in City’s recent history. Zabaleta is adored by City fans and Kompany’s leadership and determination in guiding his club to success has led to calls for a statue outside the Etihad Stadium. When Liverpool were pushing City to the wire in the 2018/19 season, it was Kompany who took it upon himself to carry the ball forward and strike home from 30 yards against Leicester City. The club legend had secured the title in the most unexpected manner, and further cemented his place in Premier League folklore.

January 2009

First team signings:

  • Nigel de Jong – £16.2 million
  • Wayne Bridge – £11.7 million
  • Craig Bellamy – £13.95 million
  • Shay Given – £8.1 million
  • Gunnar Nielsen – free transfer

The second window following the takeover showed a more defined strategy. Nigel de Jong was brought in from Hamburger SV to bolster the midfield and would prove a very reliable player for his three years at the club. However, aside from the Dutch destroyer, City looked to sign seasoned Premier League players who could instantly improve the squad.

Shay Given had been one of the best performing goalkeepers in the league for a number of seasons at Newcastle United. He had been remarkably loyal to the Magpies and, after 12 years, it was time to start a new challenge at City. A safe pair of hands, Given would make 50 league appearances in two years at City, before being phased out by future England and long-term City number one, Joe Hart.

Wayne Bridge joined to provide a seemingly very good option at left back after personal matters, involving club captain John Terry, made his exit from Chelsea inevitable. Chelsea had arguably England’s two best left backs at the time, and Bridge largely played second fiddle to Ashley Cole for club, as well as country, so a move may have been on the agenda regardless. Bridge would be a regular at his new club until a fallout with manager Roberto Mancini and the Italian’s signings of Aleksandar Kolarov and Gael Clichy in his position effectively ended his City career in 2010. It has since been said that the relationship between Bridge and Mancini became so strained that Bridge was no longer allowed to participate in training and was forced to train with the youth teams.

Craig Bellamy joined from West Ham United and the fiery Welshman would prove a constant threat on the left side of City’s attack, playing on the same side as fellow signing Bridge. However, he was always a character that polarised opinion and only spent two seasons at City, the second out on loan at Cardiff City. 12 league goals in 40 appearances was a decent return and his most notable goal was a curling effort from 25 yards in a thrilling Manchester Derby at Old Trafford. Unfortunately, for Bellamy and City, the game would not be remembered for his fine strike but for a last-gasp Michael Owen winner in a 4-3 win for the red side of Manchester.

Summer 2009

First team signings:

  • Emmanuel Adebayor – £26.1 million
  • Carlos Tevez – £26.1 million
  • Roque Santa Cruz – £19.08 million
  • Sylvinho – free transfer
  • Joleon Lescott – £24.75 million
  • Kolo Toure – £16.83 million
  • Gareth Barry – £12.51 million
  • Stuart Taylor – free transfer

Despite the injection of finances into the club, City’s first season following the takeover ended in disappointment. The club finished tenth in the league, a place below the previous season. The investment had started but it was far from finished. In fact, the owners were ready to signal their intent further, and signed eight first team players in what was a very busy 2009 summer transfer window.

Players with Premier League experience were again the focus of their investment, in a seemingly identified strategy. Seven of the eight players signed came from clubs playing in the Premier League, with the only exception being veteran 35 year old defender Sylvinho from Barcelona. Signed more for his experienced head than for his impact on the pitch, although he did still manage 11 league appearances before retiring at the end of the season.

A number of positions were covered in the recruitment. However, the central areas of the pitch were the focus, perhaps with the aim of establishing a core to the side. Three strikers came in: Emmanuel Adebayor, Carlos Tevez, and Roque Santa Cruz. The signing of Tevez was perhaps the most eye-catching, as he had spent the previous two seasons on loan at rivals Manchester United and rejected a contract from the Red Devils. The first signs of a power shift in Manchester were beginning to filter through.

Gareth Barry joined at the base of the midfield, providing a strong defensive screen alongside de Jong. At the back, Kolo Toure and Joleon Lescott were brought in to tighten up the defence. Goalkeeper Stuart Taylor also joined for free, in the knowledge that he was always likely to be a back-up up option to Given.

January 2010

First team signings:

  • Adam Johnson – £7.2 million
  • Patrick Vieira – free transfer

A poor start to the season saw Sheik Mansour lose patience with Mark Hughes, following little return on City’s investment at the time. Hughes was sacked in December 2019 and subsequently replaced by Roberto Mancini, who had been out of a job since leaving Inter Milan at the end of the previous season. The lure of money to spend and ambition to match proved enough to secure the in-demand Italian’s services.

However, in his first transfer window at the club, City’s investment was limited. They spent £7.2 million on winger Adam Johnson from Middlesbrough, who has since played for Sunderland before his arrest in 2015.

Experienced campaigner Patrick Vieira joined the club, having previously worked under Mancini at Inter Milan. At 33, although his influence on the pitch had diminished from his dominant midfield performances at Arsenal in the early 2000s, his impact on the dressing room and culture at the club shouldn’t be understated. City were improving all the time and getting a taste for winning. They ended the 2009/10 season fifth in the Premier League and League Cup semi-finalists.

This improvement was a sign of things to come. In 2011, three years after the Abu Dhabi United Group takeover, City would win their first ever Premier League title; made even sweeter by the fact a last minute Sergio Aguero goal snatched the title from under the noses of their biggest rivals, Manchester United. Fast forward to 2021 and City have just wrapped up their fifth Premier League title and are eyeing their maiden Champions League trophy, heading into the final against Chelsea as favourites, despite their recent struggles against Thomas Tuchel’s side.

There is no doubt that money has been a huge factor in City’s rise, however there has been a lot of thought and strategy behind the spending. The early transfer windows under the Mansour regime allowed City to enjoy the success they do today with players who were key to the development of City; from a club with money to serial winners. The likes of Zabaleta, Kompany, Barry, and de Jong were all signed in those first four transfer windows and have all played a huge part in implementing a culture of success at a previously relatively mediocre club. In the windows that followed the likes of Sergio Aguero, David Silva, and Yaya Toure all joined and took City to dizzy new heights, each leaving a huge mark on the club. However, without the early work of the players mentioned in this article they may well have never enjoyed the success they did at City.

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Huge Summer Squad Overhaul Vital to Future of Southampton

After a wretched first few months of 2021, Southampton have stumbled to maintaining their Premier League status for another season. A season that started so well, with the Saints briefly topping the table in November, has fizzled out to a disappointing end. With three games remaining of the 2020/21 season, the highest Southampton can finish is 13th. While it may seem that there is nothing to play for, manager Ralph Hasenhuttl has stressed the importance of the increased prize money associated with each place they can climb in the table, particularly with all clubs’ finances being struck by the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

One of the key reasons that can be attributed to Southampton’s downturn in fortunes in the second half of the season is injuries. With the rigours and demands of Hasenhuttl’s aggressive pressing style, combined with fixture congestion and being unable to use much of the club’s recovery equipment due to Covid restrictions, Southampton’s lack of squad depth was frightfully obvious. Injuries to key players such as Danny Ings, Oriol Romeu, Kyle Walker-Peters, Ryan Bertrand and Jannik Vestergaard, to name a few, proved to seriously damage the team’s ability to collect points and it seemed that they were becoming increasingly likely to be dragged into a relegation battle. Fortunately for the Saints, Fulham, West Bromwich Albion and Sheffield United have been relegated with something of a whimper with games remaining, and didn’t have the tenacity or quality to bring other teams into the mix.

Now that the majority of players are available to Hasenhuttl, he will be hoping for a strong climax to the season to set the club up for next season. The manager has bemoaned the club’s lack of January signings and has already highlighted depth, as well as quality, as the key in this summer’s transfer window. The Austrian understands the club’s financial situation and, at least publicly, accepts that this makes it hard to get players in without selling first. A number of players are playing for their Southampton futures in the run in to the end of the season. While it is, of course, important to bring in quality players who will improve the team, at times this season the Saints have struggled purely through their inability to rotate rest players when needed due to the limited size of their squad. This has been hugely detrimental to the chances of the club kicking on under Hasenhuttl, and they have been unable to play consistently to a high level for a whole season under him. For Southampton to be successful next season, and to avoid being drawn into another relegation battle, they must have a squad overhaul this summer. Whether they will be able to is a different story, however.

Players Must Leave for Signings to Come In

Like almost all clubs, Southampton’s finances have taken a huge hit in the last year. Chief Executive, Martin Semmens, said in a recent fans forum that the club have made losses of over £70 million in the last year. However, he sought to put fans at ease by suggesting it shouldn’t affect the summer transfer budget. Albeit, this does not necessarily mean that there is much of a summer transfer budget to work with. Southampton have grown used to being a club that have to sell in order to buy, and the current situation is no different. The problem they have lies in the fact that the players that the club will look to move on have little to no value.

The club are hoping talisman Danny Ings will sign a new contract in the coming weeks and are braced for transfer offers this summer. Towering Danish defender Jannik Vestergaard is also expected to receive a lot of interest. However, the club will fight hard to keep their best attacker and best defender. The only players that the club will offer around that are likely to command any sort of valuable fee are Mario Lemina, who has spent the season on loan at Fulham, and Mohamed Elyounoussi, who has impressed on loan at Celtic. It is thought that Hasenhuttl may give the latter a chance to revive his Southampton career in pre-season and, if he were to impress, he could save the club some money in the transfer window. On the other hand, the club may be able to sell him and spend the money in an area that they need improvement in.

Many players contracted to the club have failed to impress in loan spells elsehwere. In the recent fan forum, Hasenhuttl commented on the difficulty of players coming back into the first team fold at Southampton if they have failed to get game time on loan at Championship and League One clubs. This was a pretty damning statement for the likes of Yan Valery, Jake Vokins and Shane Long, while Jake Hesketh and Josh Sims are both out of contract in the summer with little chance of renewal.

The club will no doubt listen to offers for all their players, as they usually do, but are unlikely to sell any of the club’s main assets. This means that they will not receive a substantial amount of money to reinvest. However, terminating contracts of players who will never play for the club and selling, even for minimal fees, some of the deadwood will allow the club to build for the future.

For a club with a reputation of an impressive youth academy, the club are currently on something of a baron run in that department. The ‘B’ team and the Under 18’s have both finished bottom of their leagues this season and their is a lack of quality coming through. Nathan Tella is the only recent youth player that has made any real impact on the first team this season, and he actually came through Arsenal’s youth system before making the move. Alex Jankewitz is a young player with growing hype surrounding him, especially after dominating England Under 21’s in March, but hasn’t gained the trust of Hasenhuttl. Not surprising seeing as he requested a transfer in January and then was sent off in the opening minutes of his full Premier League debut in the 9-0 defeat to Manchester United. This means the club cannot rely on youth to bulk up a small squad and must seek alternatives elsewhere.

Players Likely To Be Moved On

So, on the topic of players likely to be moved on, the following list sets out the players that are highly likely to be pushed out the exit door. This could be on loan or permanently.

  • Mohamed Elyounoussi
  • Angus Gunn
  • Yan Valery
  • Jake Vokins
  • Wesley Hoedt
  • Shane Long
  • Josh Sims
  • Jake Hesketh
  • Kayne Ramsey

To add to this list, there are a handful of players that the club would likely take into next season, but if they are offered a suitable sum could be tempted to sell. Moussa Djenepo could fall into this category, with his flair all too often compounded by a lack of end product. Nathan Redmond could also be placed in this discussion, with the winger struggling to maintain any consistency over a number of seasons at the club. Michael Obafemi appears fitter than ever after his injury lay-off and is rumoured to have improved his focus, which may kickstart his career, but could also be a player the club listen to offers for. Dan Nlundulu may also benefit from a loan elsewhere if the club can sign a central striker this summer. In Jack Stephens Southampton have a defender that is willing to play anywhere for the team, as evidenced in his left back role recently, but is always susceptible to make a mistake and could well be tempted by the prospect of regular playing time elsewhere.

Fullback a Problem Area

The position where Southampton have really struggled when injuries have hit is the fullback areas. This problem has been exacerbated further with the news this week that left back Ryan Bertrand will be leaving the club upon the expiry of his contract this summer after seven years at the club. Assuming Valery and Vokins are moved on, this leaves the club with one first team fullback in Kyle Walker-Peters. Walker-Peters has missed parts of the current season due to injury and his absence was felt very sorely, with the team losing their balance in defence and attack. One of Southampton’s favourite attacking plays is a long diagonal pass from Vestergaard to play Walker-Peters in behind high on the right hand side and without a natural right back to replace him, this element of Southampton’s game has suffered.

Hasenhuttl spoke following the January transfer window about his disappointment about not recruiting any cover at fullback, and it is likely to be a key area to strengthen this summer. Realistically the club need a right back and two left backs. Long-term target Brandon Williams could make the move from Manchester United, and his ability to cover both positions make the 20-year old very desirable. Rico Henry of Brentford is also a potential target for the Saints at left back, and this could well hinge on Brentford’s play-off fate. It is thought that if the club manage to secure promotion that Henry will look to stay at the club, but could be tempted to make the move up a division if not.

Potential Incomings

With Angus Gunn out on loan to Stoke City this season, Alex McCarthy and Fraser Forster have shared the number 1 jersey in recent months. It may be that Hasenhuttl is trying to use the end of this season to decide who should be his first choice goalkeeper next season and would therefore be open to moving the other on. McCarthy and Forster are at a similar level, while Gunn is deemed behind both. Stoke have the option of another season-long loan for Gunn next season and may well take up that option. Southampton could be in market for an improvement in between the sticks but it is unlikely to be a priority. The club are likely to cast their eye over players from the teams relegated from the Premier League this season, as well as current Championship players. Names that could crop up are relegated duo Aaron Ramsdale and Sam Johnstone.

As mentioned previously, the club have no choice but to purchase fullbacks. Williams and Henry are expected to be targets, but Southampton won’t be the only clubs pursuing their signatures. Darnell Furlong of West Brom could also provide good cover for Walker-Peters at right back. The club are likely to be satisfied heading into the new season with Jan Bednarek, Jannik Vestergaard, Mohammed Salisu and Jack Stephens as centre back options. After taking a long time to come into the fold, Salisu has shown improvement in recent weeks and improves the balance of the team as a left-footed centre back. Hasenhuttl has recently said that next season is likely to “be the year of Salisu”. If Vestergaard or Stephens were to move on, or if the club consider their centre back options to require improvement, Marc Guehi, who has spent the season impressing on loan at Swansea City from Chelsea is likely to be of interest.

A central midfielder is needed, with the current trio of James Ward-Prowse, Ibrahima Diallo and the injured Oriol Romeu the players usually battling for the two holding midfield positions. Recently, Stuart Armstrong has deputised very well in the deep midfield role but his influence higher up the pitch has been missed, and the club need to add some depth to that area. Southampton pursued Ainsley Maitland-Niles on deadline day in January and could revive their interest, while Hamza Choudhury of Leicester City will surely be looking to play more regularly and could provide some steel in midfield when Romeu is absent.

Further up the pitch, it is expected that the club will make Theo Walcott’s loan spell permanent, while Takumi Minamino is not expected to return. The club have been linked with Bournemouth winger Arnaut Groeneveld, who has scored 15 goals and provided seven assists in the Championship this season. Another option could be Rangers’ Ryan Kent, although he is frequently linked with Leeds United. Ademola Lookman has been one of few bright sparks for Fulham this season, his failed Panenka penalty aside, and could be another option for Southampton to explore.

In terms of strikers, Southampton need at least one signing of real quality to improve their front line, regardless of whether Ings stays or goes. Ings struggles with injuries and Southampton struggle enormously in his absence, only winning one of the nine games he has missed in the league this season. Che Adams works tremendously hard and always offers a good option for the team, but his goals are sporadic and tend to come in bursts rather than over a sustained period.

Tammy Abraham is likely to look for a move away from Chelsea this summer but is likely to command a price above Southampton’s budget. Elsewhere, Adam Armstrong has had another impressive season in the Championship, scoring 28 goals and providing five assists in an average Blackburn Rovers side. At 24, he has served his time in the lower divisions and looks ready to take on the Premier League. Another option is Celtic’s Odsonne Edouard. Like most of his Celtic teammates, the French striker has not been at his best this season, but has still managed 18 league goals. Leicester have been linked with Edouard for a number of transfer windows, owed much to Brendan Rodgers’ spell in charge of the striker at Celtic. However, the emergence of Kelechi Iheanacho could see the club cool their interest; although if they qualify for the Champions League they could still pursue his services for depth.

2021/22 Season

So, it is clear to see that Southampton should have a busy summer ahead. An emphasis on getting rid of the deadwood is likely, with signings heavily reliant on the success of this. If the club are to sustain their spells of impressive performances for the duration of a season and look forward rather than over their shoulder then an improvement to their squad depth is key. A full pre-season should also help matters, after the condensed pre-season of last season, for Hasenhuttl to further implement his philosophy and get any new players playing the way he wants. A good transfer window and Southampton could have a very strong 2021/22 season, but if the areas that require improvement are not addressed it could well be another long season for the threadbare squad.

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Is Chris Wood the Premier League’s Most Underrated Striker?

Chris Wood scored the first Premier League hat-trick of his career on Sunday 25th April, as an impressive Burnley beat Wolverhampton Wanderers 4-0. In doing so, he became the first player from New Zealand to score a Premier League hat-trick and also took his tally for the season up to ten top flight goals. He has since added an 11th to his tally with a penalty against West Ham United. This means that he has now hit double figures in the league in each of his four seasons in the Premier League with Burnley, an impressive feat for a player at a club where chances can be few and far between. With his ability to consistently find the back of the net, paired with his effectiveness in bringing his teammates into play and holding the ball up to relieve his side of pressure, is Chris Wood the most underrated striker in the Premier League?

At 29, Wood is an experienced centre-forward with many strings to his bow, but his journey to find success in England hasn’t always been easy. Following the recommendation of one of the club’s coaching staff, West Bromwich Albion offered Wood, who had never played outside of his native New Zealand, a trial in 2009. The trial was a success and Wood joined West Brom’s youth team aged 17 for his start in English football. After impressing for the youth team, Wood was soon in the reserve side where he enjoyed an equally fruitful spell in front of goal. Injuries to the Premier League strugglers would allow Wood his first team debut for the club, coming off the bench in a league fixture against Portsmouth in April 2009. Wood’s Premier League career had begun and, in making his debut, he became only the fifth New Zealander to play in the division.

However, this was to be something of a false dawn. Wood would find himself being sent on several loans outside of the Premier League in the years that followed; six in four years in fact. While this may not have been the fairytale career in England that the New Zealander may have dreamt of when making the move across the globe, it was vital for his development. The loan moves would have differing levels of success, from 0 goals in seven appearances at Barnsley to 11 goals in 19 games at Millwall, but in each spell there would have been vital lessons learned which moulded Wood into the effective Premier League striker we see today.

The striker thought he had found a new home in Leicester City, signing permanently from West Brom in 2013. Leicester were a club at the start of their rise at the time and won the league in Wood’s first season. However, with 12 goals in 52 league games to his name, and another spell out on loan in 2015, Wood was on the move once more, following just seven appearances for the Foxes in the Premier League.

This time it was Championship club Leeds United. It was Leeds who would reap the rewards from Wood’s many loan spells, as his efforts began to bear fruit. The number nine was a firm fan favourite in his two seasons at Leeds, and with 41 goals in 82 league games it is easy to see why. However, in the 2017 summer transfer window he would break Leeds hearts, agreeing to join Burnley for a reported fee of £15 million. Wood was back in the Premier League

For Burnley to spend £15 million on a player in 2017 you know that they had every faith he could repeat his scoring exploits for Leeds in the Premier League. Four years later and he has proved this to be a shrewd piece of business. For a club that tend to be near the wrong end of the table, to have a striker who has guaranteed double figures in goals each of his seasons at the club is worth their weight in gold.

Wood is 6 foot 3 and his physicality is one of his biggest assets. Through years of plying his trade on loan in lower divisions, Wood has adapted his game brilliantly to use his frame to his advantage. This is especially beneficial in the Premier League, where defenders have become less used to dealing with the presence of a player in Wood’s mould as football has evolved. He works incredibly hard for his team and ensures he is always in the box when crosses come in, as this is the area where he can inflict the most damage. His aerial prowess is particularly useful in both boxes, whether attacking or defending, and the striker has a knack of popping up in the right place at the right time to score.

As well as scoring a more than respectable amount himself, Wood’s ability to hold the ball up and bring his teammates into play is also a strength. The fact he only has seven Premier League assists to his name in his career to date is not reflective of his influence on helping provide for his teammates. His headed flick-on to strike partner Matej Vydra in Burnley’s recent 3-2 defeat to Southampton showed not only his awareness but also his ability to execute the pass with his head. His ability on the ball is also better than he gets credit for; he is far more than an old fashioned battering ram of a striker.

All these facets to his game mean that it cannot be overstated just how important Wood is to Burnley. Burnley have only scored 31 goals in the league after playing 34 games, meaning that Wood has scored over a third of the club’s league goals this term, with his haul of 11 in 29 games. He has also assisted three goals for his teammates in that time. Having a striker who can feed off of scraps is essential for a team that play the way Burnley do. They keep things as tight as they can and get crosses into the box at every opportunity for their strikers to attack, so a player with Wood’s aerial ability is a blessing for Sean Dyche’s men. His 16 headed goals in the Premier League are testament to this, but with 21 goals with his right foot and eight with his left, he is far from a one trick pony. To put Wood’s goal return into context, Matej Vydra and Ashley Barnes are the club’s joint second top scorers in the league this season, with just three league goals each.

Wood’s best Premier League return came last season, with 14 goals, and with four games left to play of the current campaign, and coming off the back of a confidence-boosting hat-trick, the striker will be keen to try to at least match that this season. The fact that Wood plays for a club that is perceived to be less glamourous than many of their Premier League rivals in Burnley means that he is perhaps not talked about as much as he should be. 45 goals in almost four seasons is impressive for any player towards the bottom half of the Premier League and, with the consistency of his numbers, Burnley can almost plan around him getting between ten and 15 league goals each season.

While New Zealand haven’t historically produced a catalogue of top players, Wood is the country’s second highest goal scorer and, with four goals needed to catch first, you would expect him to secure his place in his homeland’s history. He is his country’s star man and it could be argued he is the same for Burnley, although often their defensive players receive more plaudits than their offensive ones. He fits their style perfectly and the club gave him his chance in the Premier League, so it has been a match made in heaven for club and player. It is difficult to think of many other players in the Premier League who are so consistent with relatively little service. Wood is crucial for his club’s success and for that reason the question should be asked: is he the most underrated striker in the Premier League?

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What Next for Tottenham Hotspur?

On the morning of Sunday 25th April, Tottenham Hotspur were looking ahead to a final where they could end their club’s 13 year with for a trophy. By Sunday evening they had lost the Carabao Cup final with a whimper and, in truth, were extremely fortunate to have only lost 1-0 to a dominant Manchester City side. There was a lot of optimism around the club and it’s fanbase following the sacking of Jose Mourinho and subsequent appointment of retired, academy product, Ryan Mason as manager until the end of the season. However, by full time this optimism had faded away and was replaced by anger and frustration at a gutless performance.

Another year without any silverware compounds the misery of the increasingly likely possibility that the club will not be playing in the Champions League again next season. The club will have a very busy summer ahead, with no manager lined up and a squad overhaul expected. So, what next for Tottenham Hotspur?

New Manager

The first problem that Tottenham must address is the manager. Ryan Mason has been thrust into the spotlight following Mourinho’s sacking but is only a temporary fit due to his lack of experience coaching senior football. While Tottenham’s shortcomings in the final against City cannot be attributed to Mason, they also failed to show the fight and desire that often comes under a new regime, even if only temporary. When appointing the club’s next manager Executive Chairman, Daniel Levy, is likely to deviate from the Mourinho gamble that cost the club so dearly in terms of style of play and fan disenchantment, as well as results. It is likely that Tottenham will be looking to appoint an exciting, positive manager with a focus on attacking football. This would be reverting to the previous recruitment strategy that saw Mauricio Pochettino appointed and the style as well as substance that followed; with Pochettino establishing the club as a regular feature in the Champions League.

Julian Nagelsmann is widely thought to have been Levy’s first choice. However, Bayern Munich announced he would be their new manager for next season and, in reality, he was always unlikely to leave his RB Leipzig role for Tottenham, having reportedly declined the Real Madrid job las summer. Brendan Rodgers is another name linked with the manager’s job but it is thought he would be unlikely to leave Leicester City at this stage, with Champions League football looking likely to add to their FA Cup final appearance this season. At Leicester, Rodgers has an incredibly exciting group of young players and is working for a progressive club who support him and provide him with the resources he requires to be successful. In return he is giving the board and fans a team that is ruffling the traditional big clubs’ feathers, while playing a wonderful brand of football. It would be a surprise if Rogers didn’t stay at Leicester for at least one more season before potentially moving on to a bigger job.

So, who does that leave? In truth Tottenham may have to be open-minded with their next managerial appointment. They are unlikely to attract the big names, and may wish to steer clear of that after Mourinho’s ill-fated spell anyway. Eddie Howe’s name is sure to be mentioned in the coming weeks but there could be a perception that the job is too big for him currently. He had great success with Bournemouth, however his time in charge did ultimately end in relegation and his biggest downfall was his business in the transfer market; with the majority of his big money signings failing to make an impact. Maurizio Sarri has also been linked but is one that doesn’t seem realistic and Tottenham may prefer to avoid ex-Chelsea managers for the time being.

Perhaps the most exciting prospect is Erik ten Hag. The Ajax manager has a history of playing attractive football and one of his key strengths is developing players, as is a pre-requisite of the Ajax job. After four years at the Amsterdam club he may feel he has taken the club as far as he can. A Champion League semi-final run in 2018/19, where they were defeated by Tottenham, and a second Eredivisie title in his fourth year looking inevitable mean that he may seek pastures new this summer. Especially with the proposition of managing in the Premier League with Tottenham in their brand new state of the art stadium.

Harry Kane’s Future

The second thing the club needs to do is perhaps even more important to the club’s immediate future than appointing a new manager. Tottenham must secure the future of talisman Harry Kane. Kane is always linked to the biggest clubs in Europe, however, this season these rumours seem to carry more weight than before. The England striker is now 28 and is rumoured to have grown disillusioned with club. Kane is highly ambitious and will be desperate not to look back on a career where he has no honours to show for his endeavours. Tottenham had the chance to win Kane the first trophy of his career in the Carabao Cup final and they squandered it. Tottenham look a side that is less likely to win anything in the next few seasons than they did under Pochettino and Kane may well be tempted to listen to the advances of the likes of Manchester City or Real Madrid.

There are factors that play into Tottenham’s hands in their bid to keep their biggest asset, though. The first of these is that they may have got rid of Mourinho at just the right time. While Kane was enjoying the most productive spell of his career under Mourinho, adding assists to his prolific strike rate, it is hard to imagine he enjoyed playing for a side who surrendered possession in the majority of their games. By getting rid of Mourinho, Tottenham may be able to appease Kane for at least one more season with the prospect of a new manager and better style of football. There is also the fact that the Coranavirus pandemic has led to most clubs in world football enduring financial troubles. With Kane’s price tag likely to be well in advance of £100 million, it is difficult to envisage any club being able to afford him this summer.

While Kane is Tottenham’s most important player, his presence does cause Tottenham some problems. While the problem is minuscule in comparison to the prospect of the losing Kane, the fact that the striker is the first name on the team sheet means that it is increasingly difficult to recruit a striker with enough quality who is satisfied playing second fiddle. This may not be such an issue if Kane was fit all the time, but in the past three seasons he has endured lengthy spells on the side-lines and Tottenham have always struggled to adapt. They have tried a number of solutions in the past, with Son Heung-Min, Dele Alli, Gareth Bale, and Lucas Moura all doing their best to fill the void. This season, Tottenham brought in striker Carlos Vinicius on loan from Benfica. However, he has struggled to break into the side, and the fact that he wasn’t brought on when Tottenham were 1-0 down with minutes to go in the final defeat to City was telling.

Summer Rebuild Essential

Once a new manager is appointed and the future of Kane becomes clear, a summer rebuild will be able to begin. Of course, the players that leave the club and are brought in are likely to be influenced by the style of manager that comes in, but Levy will also only part funds with players he deems worthy. Gareth Bale is unlikely to be at the club next season following remarks about returning to Madrid in the summer while on international duty. He has since backtracked on these comments but the message seemed clear. Matt Doherty has failed to live up to expectations following a transfer from Wolves and looks a little out of his depth so could be one of the first out the club this summer. Vinicius is highly unlikely to see his loan deal made permanent, while a number of other players may leave whether through personal choice or not.

Despite the seemingly bizarre timing of Mourinho’s sacking, less than a week before the cup final, in many ways it made sense. If Mourinho was to stay until the end of the season it could have resulted in a number of players who were unhappy with his methods seeking to leave the club. Some of these players were finding minutes hard to come by under Mourinho, such as Harry Winks and Dele Alli, but could well be seen as key members of the squad for an incoming manager, and it was important to ensure their futures at the club. It was also important to get rid of Mourinho before he was given another transfer window that could have caused huge damage to the future of the club. If the next manager is to be an attack-minded appointment then it was important that Mourinho wasn’t able to bring in any more players that fit his more defence-minded mould.

Despite the fact that the next manager is likely to be a forward thinking appointment, it is the defence that requires the most urgent attention. On the face of it, 38 goals conceded in 33 Premier League games is not a bad record. However, when you consider they have spent the season showing very little attacking intent to play defensive, counter-attacking, football regardless of the opposition, it is less impressive. The fact that they drop points from winning positions so regularly and allow three points to turn into one so often shows that their defence is simply not good enough. Toby Aldeweireld is the club’s best defender, but at 32 isn’t getting any younger. Davinson Sanchez has fallen out of favour and his tendency to often gift the opposition chances through mistakes is undesirable in a central defender. Eric Dier has finally settled on a position as a centre-back, but is not consistent enough to perform there at the top level. Welsh defender Joe Rodon has looked a prospect in his first season at the club, but is relatively inexperienced at Premier League level. Academy product, Japhet Tanganga, is also an option but is a talent that needs nurturing.

The club are crying out for a leader in the heart of their defence. They need a reliable player who commands the backline and organises those around him. It may even be that the club need two new central defenders of real quality to provide the platform for the team to compete at the top level. The full back areas are similarly weak and require overhaul. As alluded to, Doherty has struggled in his first season at the club and looks a shadow of the player he was at Wolves. Serge Aurier has had one of his better spells at the club, but is still incredibly highly-charged and always likely to make a rash challenge that will cost his team. With neither right back a reliable performer, Levy must be rueing the decision to let the impressive Kyle Walker-Peters sign for Southampton in the summer. At left back Tottenham have Sergio Reguilon who has been one of the team’s better players this season, despite enduring a difficult cup final. Ben Davies is the other senior left back at the club and is reliable if lacking a little in pace and guile.

Moving forward from the defence and Tottenham have a good side. Pierre-Emile Højbjerg provides steel in midfield and allows the likes of Tanguy N’Dombele and Giovani Lo Celso to play. Dele Alli may well revive his career under a new manager, and would provide a different dimension to the team if so. Although the club have arguably never replaced the playmaking influence of Christian Eriksen since his departure in January 2020. The likes of Lucas Moura, Erik Lamela, and Steven Bergwijn are decent players to have in the squad, but it is likely Tottenham will need to sign an upgrade on them if they are to be successful moving forward. Kane and Son are Tottenham’s only two world class players and, if they both remain at the club, will continue to perform to a very high level.

So, it is not that Tottenham require a complete overhaul, they just need a clear strategy. The squad was on the decline well before the Champions League final appearance in 2019 papered over the cracks, and Pochettino was very much aware of the problems that were forthcoming. The Argentine frequently pleaded with Levy to sign new players but to no avail, with the club not signing a single player in a year towards the end of the manager’s reign. The club must secure a manager that fits their ethos and will engage the fans once more, they must secure the future of Harry Kane, and they must invest on their defence which currently is simply not good enough.

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The Nomad Footballer Series: Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Nomad: a person who does not stay long in the same place; a wanderer.

Clubs: Malmö, Ajax, Juventus, Inter Milan, Barcelona, AC Milan (loan), AC Milan, Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester United, LA Galaxy, AC Milan

Countries played in: 7

Most professional footballers go through their whole career only having a handful of clubs. In fact, some manage to spend their whole career at one club. Being a one-club man is something than endears football players to a fan base and is generally seen as the ultimate display of loyalty. However, what about those players that don’t manage to settle. The players who don’t find a home in their short professional career and instead jump from club to club in a pursuit of challenges and success. This series looks at those players who are footballing nomads; wanderers.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Arguably the man with the biggest ego in football, Ibrahimovic’s career perhaps best reflects the belief he has in his ability to succeed anywhere. Ibrahimovic has played for ten different clubs and is currently in his third spell at Italian giants AC Milan at the spritely age of 39. He has been willing to challenge himself all over Europe for his whole career, as well as in America, and has been prolific throughout. He is also one of the most decorated active footballers, with 31 trophies to his name, however the Champions League trophy has always eluded the Swedish striker. Despite his advanced years, Ibrahimovic is showing no signs of slowing down, firing a resurgent AC Milan side to second in Serie A currently, with his 15 goals in 17 league appearances.

Ibrahimovic has played in seven countries in his career to date and has played for a number of the most prestigious cubs in Europe, including the three most famous clubs in Italy: AC Milan, Inter Milan, and Juventus. With the exception of Malmö, where Ibrahimovic started his career, all the European clubs that the Swede has played for have won the Champions League; which makes this fact that he has never lifted the famous trophy all the more remarkable.

Ibrahimovic signed his first professional contract with hometown Swedish club Malmö in 1996 and was promoted to the first team ahead of the 1999 season. In what would be very inaccurate foreshadowing of how Ibrahimovic’s career would go, Malmö were relegated in Ibrahimovic’s first season for the first team, with the youngster scoring one goal in six appearances. However, they would be promoted at the first attempt, with Ibrahimovic’s 12 goals a large contributory factor towards this. It would not be long before the impressive young striker would leave his homeland, however, signing for Ajax as a 20-year old in 2001. Ibrahimovic’s early career could have taken a very different path, though. As a 17-year old the striker visited Arsenal with Arsene Wenger very keen on the prospect of signing him. Wenger’s mistake was to ask Ibrahimovic to have a trial, which is routine for many young players. Ibrahimovic did not take kindly to this, later claiming that: “Arsene Wenger asked me to have a trial with Arsenal when I was 17. I turned it down. Zlatan doesn’t do auditions”.

Ibrahimovic would have three successful years in Amsterdam, scoring 35 goals in 74 Eredevisie games after a slow start, winning the league title twice before departing to Juventus. After a positive first season in Italy, he would find himself played in a deeper role in his second season and was often accused of going missing in big games. The club would win the Serie A title in each of Ibrahimovic’s two seasons, but these titles would be revoked due to a match-fixing scandal that also saw Juventus relegated to Serie B. Ibrahimovic was understandably not keen on the prospect of playing it Italy’s second tier and moved on to fellow Italian giants Inter Milan.

At Inter Ibrahimovic would win three consecutive Serie A titles, meaning that he had won the Italian league five years on the bounce, not accounting for the stripping of the first two titles. The striker would conjure a remarkable strike rate of 57 league goals in 88 games in his three seasons at Inter and would win the league’s Golden Boot award, finishing on 25 league goals for the season. He would leave for Barcelona in 2009 and Inter would win the Champions League as part of a Jose Mourinho inspired domestic treble in his absence.

Ibrahimovic’s time in Barcelona would be short and not very sweet. After signing for a reported fee of £59 million plus Samuel Eto’o; who would be pivotal in Inter’s Champions League triumph. Despite a positive start, becoming the first player to score in their first five league games for the club, things would soon turn sour. Following Barcelona’s Champions League semi-final defeat to former club Inter, Ibrahimovic exploded at Pep Guardiola in the changing room, writing in his book that he yelled: “you haven’t got any balls” and that the manager could “go to hell”. The Sweden striker had already grown frustrated at his impact being limited due to Lionel Messi’s desire to play through the middle and having to accommodate the Argentinian magician, claiming that the club had bought a Ferrari but drove it like a Fiat. The relationship between manager and player had been damaged beyond repair and Guardiola would send Ibrahimovic on loan to AC Milan after one season in Spain. After the loan the deal was made permanent.

As he had done everywhere in his career, Ibrahimovic scored goals. In his loan season at AC Milan he managed 14 league goals and once he had made the move permanent he would repay his employers with 28 league goals, again winning him the Golden Boot. Even in his fateful spell at Barcelona he had still managed to score at a decent rate, managing 21 goals in all competitions in his solitary season. However, Ibrahimovic’s stay at AC Milan would be brief, and in 2012 he would sign for French club Paris Saint-Germain after just one permanent season at AC Milan.

Four devastating seasons followed, with Ibrahimovic scoring at a relentless rate. The six foot five inch battering ram of a centre-forward managed 113 goals in 122 league games; repeatedly showing all who watched just how good he was. Ibrahimovic added 12 trophies to his collection in Paris, but again the Champions League would desert him. Aged 34, and with many fans and pundits feeling it was too late, Ibrahimovic graced the Premier League with his presence. He signed as a free agent for Manchester United on a year-long contract with the option of an extra year.

Contrary to his time in Barcelona. Ibrahimovic’s time in Manchester was fleeting but enjoyable for all parties. In his debut season at the club Ibrahimovic registered 28 goals in all competitions, including two in the final of the EFL Cup, which United won. United would also win the Europa League that year, although Ibrahimovic would not feature past the quarter-final stage due to a serious knee injury. Many feared that, given Ibrahimovic’s age, this injury could end the striker’s career. However, United extended Ibrahimovic’s contract an extra year and he returned sooner than expected in November 2017. Soon after returning he became the first player to feature for seven different clubs in the Champions League.

Ibrahimovic would move on in March 2018 and join MLS side LA Galaxy, becoming probably the highest profile player to go to America since David Beckham famously made the move in 2007. Despite his advancing years he would take the MLS by storm, scoring 52 goals in 56 appearances before announcing he was leaving in 2019 via Twitter, saying: “You wanted Zlatan. I gave you Zlatan. You are welcome. The story continues…now go back to watch baseball”. A return to AC Milan followed where he has been ever since, scoring as consistently as ever as the focal point of the club’s attack.

Ibrahimovic is a player who has always backed up his seemingly arrogant statements to the point that they are no longer viewed as arrogant, just fact. He will claim to do something and then he will proceed to do it. His constant referring of himself in the third person as ‘Zlatan’ gives him a God-like presence in football and it is one that he has no doubt earned, with over 500 goals in his career. His arrogance has made him difficult for teammates and opponents alike throughout his career, with the bullish striker having as many enemies as he does friends in football. Training ground bust-ups and fallouts with managers have been sides stories in a glittering career that is still going strong.

With the Sweden all-time record goal scorer recently coming out of international retirement in time for the delayed UEFA Euro 2021 tournament it would appear he feels he has unfinished business after five years away from the national team. After starting his career in the nineties, Ibrahimovic has scored in four different decades. A remarkable feat for anyone, but when you consider the level Ibrahimovic has been playing at for almost his whole career it defies belief. Don’t be surprised if he plays at the top level beyond the age of 40, and definitely don’t be surprised if he moves on to yet another club before his career ends.

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The Nomad Footballer Series: Nicolas Anelka

Nomad: a person who does not stay long in the same place; a wanderer.

Clubs: Paris Saint-Germain, Arsenal, Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain, Liverpool (loan), Manchester City, Fenerbahce, Bolton Wanderers, Chelsea, Shanghai Shenhua, Juventus (loan), West Bromwich Albion, Mumbai City

Countries played in: 7

Most professional footballers go through their whole career only having a handful of clubs. In fact, some manage to spend their whole career at one club. Being a one-club man is something than endears football players to a fan base and is generally seen as the ultimate display of loyalty. However, what about those players that don’t manage to settle. The players who don’t find a home in their short professional career and instead jump from club to club in a pursuit of challenges and success. This series looks at those players who are footballing nomads; wanderers.

Nicolas Anelka

Most nomadic players who play for a string of clubs have had a fair amount of controversy throughout their career. It is part and parcel of the frequent moving of clubs. However, Nicolas Anelka is a player whose career was marred with more controversy than most. Sent home early from the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and being banned for making an anti-Semitic gesture while at West Bromwich Albion are two of the standout infamous moments from a career also glittered with achievements. Anelka is a figure of such contention that he was recently the subject of a Netflix documentary, entitled ‘Anelka: Misunderstood’, released in 2020.

When you look at Anelka’s long list of clubs his ability on the field is clear to see. Paris Saint-German, Arsenal, Liverpool, Real Madrid and Chelsea, to name a few. It was in Paris that Anelka’s senior career started. A product of the famed Claire Fontaine academy in France, Anelka was picked up by PSG in 1995, before making his debut the following year, aged just 16. The raw, pacey striker managed just the one goal in his ten Ligue 1 matches, but earned a move to Arsenal after only one season as a professional. This transfer caused some dispute between Arsenal and PSG, as Arsenal signed Anelka as a Bosman free transfer due to his contract expiry, while PSG felt this rule was only for players over 24 years of age. Arsenal Wenger and Arsenal were of the opinion that this rule only applied to domestic transfers. In the end Arsenal paid PSG £500,000 for the striker’s services.

After a debut season where opportunities were hard to come by for Anelka, he really came to the fore in the 1997/98 season, mainly due to a long-term injury to Ian Wright. Anelka didn’t look back, scoring his first goal in a 3-2 win over Manchester United in November, before ensuring he was a key member of the side in their run to a Premier League and FA Cup double. The following season Anelka was Arsenal’s highest goal scorer with 17 league goals and won the Premier League PFA Young Player of the Year award. However, Arsenal had a poor season and failed to defend their Premier League and FA Cup crowns, while also falling far short in the Champions League. Despite Anelka’s performances, Arsenal fans found him difficult to take to and even nicknamed the Frenchman ‘Le Sulk’, in reference to his perceived negative body language when things weren’t going well. Growing transfer speculation also didn’t help the relationship between player and fans.

The transfer speculation was accurate in this instance though, and Anelka was on the move to Spanish giants Real Madrid ahead of the 1999/2000 season. Anelka struggled to live up to his £22.3 million transfer fee in the Spanish capital and only lasted a year at the Bernabeau, scoring just twice in the league. He was mocked by Spanish newspaper Marca after playing FIFA on PlayStation with a member of their staff, with the headline the following day saying ‘Anelka finally scores a goal…on a video game’. Many fail to deal with the intense media spotlight when playing for Real Madrid and, without getting off to a good start, Anelka was always on the back foot.

After just a year at Madrid, Anelka returned to his first club, PSG. The move was met with a great deal of excitement by the club’s fans, especially due to the six-year contract which was signed. PSG had finished runners-up in Ligue 1 the previous season and had thus qualified for the Champions League. This move coincided with Anelka’s emergence as a key member of the French national team, having been left dismayed at his omission from France’s 1998 World Cup squad, meaning he missed out on winning the tournament in his home country.

After a positive start in his second spell at PSG, Anelka was soon made captain of the Parisian club. However, the club weren’t in the best of places in that period and were a far cry from the side that dominates French football today. After ten league goals in two and a half years, Anelka was headed back to the Premier League with a loan move to Liverpool in December 2001. He was relatively successful in his brief spell on Merseyside, contributing to the Reds finishing second in the league, and was expecting to be offered a permanent contract in the close season by compatriot, Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier. However, Houllier opted to sign forward El Hadji Diouf instead following a successful 2002 World Cup for the Senegal international.

Anelka would stay in England, signing for a relatively poor Manchester City side in the summer. He was a success at City and was their top scorer in his first two seasons at the club. He would end his three year stay in Manchester in 2008, to join Turkish side Fenerbahce, having scored 38 goals in 89 league appearances. It would not be long before Anelka was back on English soil however, as after one year in Turkey he agreed to sign for Bolton Wanderers. Anelka would rebuild his reputation at Bolton and scored some memorable goals, none more so than a 25-yard curling effort against former club Arsenal in a 3-1 win. In January 2007 Anelka admitted he would consider leaving Bolton to re-join the Gunners. However, he signed a new Bolton contract that summer, later admitting that he signed the deal so that the club would get more money when he inevitably left.

He did, of course, leave. In 2008 Anelka signed for Chelsea for £15 million, and this chapter of his career would be his most successful. It would also be the most settled period of his career, with Anelka spending four seasons at the London club, striking up a formidable partnership with club legend Didier Drogba. Anelka would go on to win the Premier League again at Chelsea, as well as two more FA Cups, but would suffer heartbreak in the Champions League as he missed the penalty in the final shootout against Manchester United in Moscow in 2008 to hand United the trophy. He would later blame manager Avram Grant for his miss in true Anelka fashion, claiming the manager had put him on too late to acclimatise to the game.

Anelka scored 38 league goals in 125 games for Chelsea. He also won the Premier League golden boot in his second season at the club, finding the net 19 times. Drogba was injured for the start of Anelka’s second campaign and he stepped up to be the main man with his goals. Upon Drogba’s return Anelka often found himself playing out wide, a position in which he was equally as potent. Chelsea stood by Anelka in the midst of the biggest scandal of a rollercoaster of a career and he repaid them with his most effective performances.

As alluded to, Anelka was sent home from the 2010 World Cup, as France embarrassingly struggled. Anelka reportedly abused French coach Raymond Domenech at half time of a 2-0 group stage loss to Mexico. Following the game Anelka would refuse the French football federation’s demand to publicly apologise and was subsequently sent home. The France squad went on strike and refused to train before crashing out of the tournament with just one point. An embarrassment to French football, especially when you consider the talent they had at their disposal. Anelka would be banned by the French football federation for 18 games; effectively retiring him from international football. An international career in which Anelka endured his fair share of harsh omissions and perceived disrespect was over. 14 goals in 69 international appearances was all he had to show for it, despite moments of brilliance to go with the bizarre. Perhaps scoring a brace against England in 1999 whilst wearing goalkeeper gloves to keep warm sums up Anelka’s enigmatic nature best.

Anelka would spend two more years at Chelsea before moving to Chinese side Shanghai Shenhua in 2012. A loan move to Juventus followed, before a brief move to West Bromwich Albion where more controversy ensued after Anelka celebrated a goal by performing what many viewed in France as an anti-Semitic gesture. Anelka claimed it was an anti-establishment gesture, but was given a five match ban by the FA, although the FA did state that they did not think Anelka intended to be anti-Semitic. West Brom would take stronger action however, terminating the 35 year old’s contract.

Anelka would squeeze one last move out of his long career, joining Indian side Mumbai City for a season before retiring in 2015. In total, Anelka played for 12 clubs in seven countries. His talents were clear for all to see, with the lightning fast forward never shy in front of goal. However, he just couldn’t keep himself out of trouble. The Netflix documentary intended to explain the controversial moments in his career did not necessarily paint him in any better a light than he was perceived prior to its release. A hot-headed character with bundles of self-confidence and seemingly little loyalty. Anelka’s 19 season career was one similar to many nomadic players in nature, however there has been some room for sentimentality upon reflection, perhaps even with a tinge of regret. When talking about his career, Anelka has expressed that he should never have left Arsenal and that he has a great deal of love for the club and former manager, Arsenal Wenger. How different could Anelka’s career have been had he settled in north London?

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The Nomad Footballer Series: Kyle Lafferty

Nomad: a person who does not stay long in the same place; a wanderer.

Clubs: Burnley, Darlington (loan), Rangers, Sion, Palermo, Norwich City, Caykur Rizespor (loan), Birmingham City (loan), Heart of Midlothian, Rangers, Sarpsborg 08, Sunderland, Reggina, Kilmarnock

Countries played in: 6

Most professional footballers go through their whole career only having a handful of clubs. In fact, some manage to spend their whole career at one club. Being a one-club man is something than endears football players to a fan base and is generally seen as the ultimate display of loyalty. However, what about those players that don’t manage to settle. The players who don’t find a home in their short professional career and instead jump from club to club in a pursuit of challenges and success. This series looks at those players who are footballing nomads; wanderers.

Kyle Lafferty

It feels as though Kyle Lafferty has been around for a very long time, and yet he is still only 33. He has bounced around from club to club during a career interspersed with controversy, and his career to date has been one that perhaps lacks the glamour of other nomadic footballers. However, he has still had relative success since starting his professional journey in 2005, boasting the title of Northern Ireland’s second highest goal scorer, behind former international strike partner David Healy.

Lafferty’s senior career began in 2005 with Burnley, who were then in the Championship. Despite being around the first team for much of his first season as a professional he was sent on loan to non-league Darlington in January 2006 where he would score three goals in nine appearances. On returning to his parent club the striker found himself having greater involvement in the first team squad but in 2008 would leave for Rangers, having scored ten league goals in 83 appearances for the Clarets.

Lafferty was only 20 when he signed for Rangers for the first time. He would return for a year in 2018, but his first spell at the club was his longest at any club in his career and he hasn’t come close to the 104 league appearances he made in that spell from 2008-12 since. In fact, he has not managed to reach 50 appearances for any one club in that time. He left Rangers in their darkest hour after lodging an objection to his contract being transferred to the new company that had been set up as a result of the financial troubles which led to Scotland’s most successful club being demoted to the fourth tier.

Lafferty’s time at Rangers was not without controversy as he was involved in an incident with Aberdeen’s Charlie Mulgrew in 2009, where he got Mulgrew sent off for a headbutt due to his reaction despite replays showing there had been little or no contact. Lafferty was subsequently fined by Rangers, and manager Walter Smith expressed his disappointment with the Northern Ireland striker. The punishment did not stop there however, with the Scottish FA rescinding Mulgrew’s red card and instead issuing Lafferty a two-match ban for simulation. In April 2012, in the midst of Rangers’ problems off the field, Lafferty was in more hot water with manager Ally McCoist banning him for two weeks following a training ground incident.

Lafferty’s time in the UK had come to an end following his Rangers exit, at least temporarily. Switzerland was his destination in June 2013, signing a three-year contract with FC Sion. Five goals in 25 league games followed and then onwards to Serie B side Palermo after just a year. In Italy Lafferty struck up an unlikely strike partnership with Paulo Dybala who has since gone on to achieve great things at Juventus. Lafferty managed 11 goals in 34 matches as Palermo stormed to the title and thus gained promotion to Serie A. The 6 foot 4 inch striker also earned the club’s Fan’s Player of the Year award after an impressive season. All looked well for Lafferty, perhaps this was the club he could settle at and continue his fine form into Italy’s top flight. Unfortunately not. While Lafferty’s performances on the pitch were to be admired his actions off the pitch were a cause for concern. Palermo’s president Maurizio Zamparini accused Lafferty of being an ‘out of control womaniser’ and cited this as a reason to sell Lafferty to Norwich City in the English Championship.

Lafferty managed a measly one goal in his first season at Norwich before being loaned to Turkish side Caykur Rizespor in February 2015. Norwich would be promoted to the Premier League in Lafferty’s absence. He also struggled to make an impact in Turkey, scoring just twice. A return to Norwich perhaps unsurprisingly didn’t lead to an upturn in game time and Lafferty was subsequently loaned to Birmingham City before being released at the end of his Norwich contract in 2017. Amidst all this, the striker was charged with misconduct from the FA in relation to gambling on football and was fined £23,000.

Lafferty opted to return to the place he had enjoyed the most success in his career, and returned to the Scottish Premier League, signing for Hearts. Lafferty impressed and looked set to get his career back on track after scoring 13 goals in the league, with the crowning moment of his year in Edinburgh scoring in a 4-0 win over Celtic which ended their 69 game domestic unbeaten run. A return to Celtic’s bitter rivals, Rangers, followed after his single season at Hearts. Again, Lafferty’s time at a club would last only a year, agreeing to terminate his contract in July 2019. In less than two years since leaving Rangers for the second time Lafferty has played for four clubs, firstly Norwegian outfit Sarpsborg 08, before spells at Sunderland and Reggina, and he now finds himself at Kilmarnock as of January 2021, where he has scored three goals in four games.

Whether Lafferty will find a home at Kilmarnock now that he is heading towards the twilight years of his career remains to be seen, although history suggests that his stay could be brief. Lafferty’s career is a strange one, with 13 clubs in six different countries. The centre-forward’s career is likely to be remembered for his achievements at international level rather than club level, and the Northern Ireland striker has in fact made more appearances for his country than all but one of his clubs. His 81 appearances at international level to date, coupled with the fact he is his nation’s second highest goal scorer, mean that even if his club career has been forgettable due to his tendency to move around, he has felt at home playing for his country. Perhaps the settled nature of playing for his country has brought out the best in him, a luxury he hasn’t yet been able to benefit from at club level. A career that will be best remembered for his international exploits, Lafferty scored seven goals in Northern Ireland’s Euro 2016 qualification campaign which led to their first ever European Championship finals.

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The Nomad Footballer Series: Rivaldo

Nomad: a person who does not stay long in the same place; a wanderer.

Clubs: Santa Cruz, Mogi Mirim, Corinthians (loan), Palmeiras, Deportivo La Coruña, Barcelona, AC Milan, Cruzeiro, Olympiacos, AEK Athens, Bunyodkor, São Paulo (loan), Kabuscorp, São Caetano, Mogi Mirim

Countries played in: 6

Most professional footballers go through their whole career only having a handful of clubs. In fact, some manage to spend their whole career at one club. Being a one-club man is something than endears football players to a fan base and is generally seen as the ultimate display of loyalty. However, what about those players that don’t manage to settle. The players who don’t find a home in their short professional career and instead jump from club to club in a pursuit of challenges and success. This series looks at those players who are footballing nomads; wanderers.

Rivaldo

World Cup winner, Champions League winner, Ballon D’or winner, and one third of one of the most exciting attacks international football has ever seen, Rivaldo’s career was a remarkable one. In the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea Rivaldo, Ronaldo, and Ronaldinho ran riot in Brazil’s run to the trophy. Rivaldo scored five en route to lifting the famous trophy and set up Ronaldo’s second goal in the final by dummying a pass to allow O Fenômeno his brace against the Germans. A year later, aged 31, Rivaldo would make the last of his 74 appearances for his country. Yet in 2015 Rivaldo was still playing at the ripe old age of 43, 13 years after World Cup glory.

Rivaldo was an unorthodox but unbelievably talented attacking midfielder who was often seen playing as a striker or a wide midfielder over his 24 year career. The Brazilian was bow-legged which gave him an awkward running style but his left-foot was one of the best in the game and he was a player that frequented the scoresheet wherever he played. He is also widely regarded as the scorer of the best hattrick in the history of football, with his treble against Valencia to secure Champions League football for Barcelona in 2001 finished with a powerful overhead quick from 20-yards out after a delightful free-kick for his first.

As most footballer’s careers do, Rivaldo’s career started in his homeland. In the 1991/92 season Rivaldo broke through for Brazilian side Santa Cruz aged 19. He scored just the one goal in nine league appearances in his first season as a professional and a transfer to Brazilian second division side Mogi Mirim followed ready for the next season, however the young attacker failed to make an appearance in his two seasons at the club. In the second of his two seasons at Mogi Mirim he played on loan at first division side Corinthians where he impressed, earning a move to defending champions Palmeiras. Rivaldo’s talents would now start to peak the attention of clubs in Europe and, after being named player of the year in his position in his two seasons at Palmeiras, Deportivo La Coruña came calling. A relatively late bloomer in football terms, Rivaldo was 24 when he moved to Spain. The transfer was not without controversy, as Parma felt they had an agreement to take Rivaldo to Italy prior to the 1996 Olympic Games,, where the attacking midfielder represented Brazil. However, on his return from the Olympics, with a bronze medal to show for his efforts, Rivaldo chose Spain.

Although there is no denying the nomadic nature of Rivaldo’s career, he did find a temporary home in Spain. After an impressive debut season in Europe, scoring 21 league goals and guiding Deportivo La Coruña to a third-place La Liga finish, Rivaldo’s stock had risen significantly. A move to Barcelona followed, with a rumoured fee of €26 million paid for his services. He would spend five years at the Catalan club, which was the longest spell he had at any one club, and it was also the most successful period of his career, both on a personal level and in terms of honours. In the his first season at the Camp Nou, Barcelona would win the La Liga and the Copa Del Rey double. In his second season in 1998/99, the club would retain the La Liga title and Rivaldo would win the Ballon D’or, confirming the common belief that he was the best player in the world at the time. More individual brilliance would follow in his remaining time at Barcelona, but the Champions League trophy evaded him in Spain and he would seek pastures new in 2002, joining AC Milan. This move was largely due to the return of manager Louis Van Gaal at Barcelona, who Rivaldo had not seen eye to eye with in his previous spell in charge, disagreeing with Van Gaal playing him on the left of midfield. The Brazilian would leave Barcelona as the ninth highest scorer in the club’s history, with 85 La Liga goals in 157 appearances.

When Rivaldo agreed to join AC Milan he was 30 years-old and at the top of his game, winning the World Cup just a matter of weeks later. However, the man who had been so influential at Barcelona would have a negligible impact in Milan. Over his two seasons with the Rossaneri, Rivaldo found minutes hard to come by, with manager Carlo Ancelotti often favouring Filippo Inzaghi and Andriy Shevchenko to the man whose knee injuries had seemingly started to take their toll. In his first season at the club Milan did win the Champions League, but Rivaldo’s influence was minimal and he failed to feature in the final against domestic rivals Juventus. Off the field issues may have played their part in Rivaldo’s perceived fall from grace, as he and his wife separated in this period and he was living away from his children. To rub salt in Rivaldo’s wounds, he was voted as the worst signing in Serie A at the end of the 2002/03 season.

The samba star who had lit up world football left Milan in 2004; unfulfilled from his time in Italy. Now 32, and with a string of knee injuries throughout his career, many expected the former world’s best player to be eyeing retirement. However, what followed was quite the opposite. Rivaldo returned briefly to his homeland to sign for Cruzeiro to play for his former mentor, Vanderlei Luxembergo, at the start of 2004 but left shortly after as Luxembergo left the club. Greece was next on the horizon for the Brazilian talisman and he would spend three years at Olympiacos following his Cruzeiro exit. He would leave in 2007 after a dispute with the Olympiacos chairman, who claimed he was too old at 35 to be given a new deal. Rivaldo responded by signing for Greek rivals AEK Athens, where he would spend a solitary season, managing 12 league goals in the process but ultimately falling short in the title race to former club Olympiacos, for whom he had scored 36 league goals.

Rivaldo’s next move would be his strangest, especially considering he had been signalling his intent to return to play in Brazil for some time while in Greece. A lucrative offer delayed Rivaldo’s return to his home country, as he was swayed by an offer of €10.2 million over two years to join Uzbekistani side Bunyodkor. Unsurprisingly, Rivaldo was a success in Uzbekistan, a league far too easy for the Brazil icon even in his mid-thirties. 33 goals in 53 league games followed, before eventually returning to Brazil in 2011 to sign for Sao Paulo. Rivaldo would play for the club for a year before another left-field transfer to play in Angola for Kabuscorp. After a year in Angola Rivaldo would again return to Brazil where he would remain until the end of his career. Remarkably, Rivaldo turned out for Mogi Mirim in 2015 alongside his son, Rivaldinho, and in July of that year the pair scored in the same game for the first time. Rivaldo did eventually retire later in 2015, aged 43, with a long and illustrious career to look back on.

One of Brazil’s greats, Rivaldo played for an astonishing 14 clubs across his 24 year career. From 1996 to 2002 the magician found a home in Spain, first for Deportivo La Coruña and then for Barcelona, but once this spell was over he would go on to play for a further nine clubs in the twilight years of a glittering career. As well as winning the World Cup and Copa America for Brazil, Rivaldo managed 35 goals in 74 appearances for his country, giving him a strike rate of almost a goal every other game. Over his career, Rivaldo also notched 228 league goals at club level. He was far more than just goals, however. Rivaldo was an entertainer, as so many Brazilians are. Football was just as much about getting fans excited for Brazilian mavericks such as Rivaldo and Ronaldinho as it was statistics. Rivaldo had it all. Silky footwork, flair, creativity, as well as his powerful left foot. A true icon of the game, Rivaldo blessed many a club’s fans with his ability, whether that be in Brazil, Spain, Italy, or even Uzbekistan and Angola. One thing that cannot be said about Rivaldo was that he wasn’t prepared to explore new beginnings. A true nomad; a wanderer in every sense of the word.

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The Nomad Footballer Series: Craig Bellamy

Nomad: a person who does not stay long in the same place; a wanderer.

Clubs: Norwich City, Coventry City, Newcastle United, Celtic (loan), Blackburn Rovers, Liverpool, West Ham United, Manchester City, Cardiff City (loan), Liverpool, Cardiff City

Countries played in: 2

Most professional footballers go through their whole career only having a handful of clubs. In fact, some manage to spend their whole career at one club. Being a one-club man is something than endears football players to a fan base and is generally seen as the ultimate display of loyalty. However, what about those players that don’t manage to settle. The players who don’t find a home in their short professional career and instead jump from club to club in a pursuit of challenges and success. This series looks at those players who are footballing nomads; wanderers.

Craig Bellamy

Craig Bellamy started his career at Norwich City and would go on to play for nine different clubs, scoring for seven Premier League clubs in the process. The Cardiff-born Welshman was a figure that divided opinion, with his obvious ability perhaps hindered by his inability to stay out of trouble.

Many former professionals have spoken about Bellamy’s behaviour, with Jamie Carragher recalling a particular anecdote where, when playing against Bellamy’s Newcastle, he played a long ball forward to Robbie Fowler who Carragher felt hadn’t made enough effort to make a run, and thus let him know just that. Bellamy, completely unprovoked, started shouting to Carragher and ranted, in no uncertain terms, that Carragher had no right to shout at a player of Fowler’s perceived superior ability. The two would later become teammates, with Bellamy having two separate one-year spells at Liverpool.

It is perhaps due to Bellamy’s confrontational nature that he struggled to find a home for much of his career, although he did never leave the British Isles to play abroad. Bellamy was Newcastle United’s record signing when he joined in 2001 and finished in the top four twice in his four seasons at the club; winning the PFA Young Player of the Year award in that time too. However, he fell out with manager Graeme Souness and was loaned to Celtic in January 2005 before being sold to Blackburn Rovers in the summer. Clearly the relationship between player and manager had been damaged beyond repair, with Souness later stating that it was ‘me or him’. In fact, after leaving Newcastle in 2005, Bellamy would not play for another club for more than two seasons until he retired in 2014.

In the first of his two seasons at Liverpool, in the club’s run to the Champions League final in 2007, there was an incident prior to a last-16 match away at Barcelona where Bellamy went to John Arne Riise’s hotel room armed with a golf club. Bellamy and Riise had argued earlier in the evening on a team night out and Bellamy hadn’t let it go, allegedly shouting that: ‘no-one disrespects me like that in front of the lads’, before attacking Riise with the club. Ironically, Bellamy and Riise were Liverpool’s two goal scorers in the subsequent game and when Bellamy scored he quickly acted to respond to the allegations by celebrating by swinging an imaginary golf club. Despite the light-hearted nature of the celebration it would seem all was not forgotten, as Bellamy was sold in the summer after just 12 months at the club, and Riise later claimed in his autobiography that Bellamy could have easily ended his career and the two ‘would never be friends’.

Despite the unsettled nature of his career, Bellamy’s career did have something of a fairytale ending. He initially joined his hometown club, Cardiff City, on loan from Manchester City for the 2010-11 season, before re-joining Liverpool for what would prove to be another year-long stay. Following this, with the Welshman having endured a long struggle with knee injuries, Bellamy joined the Bluebirds permanently, and was pivotal in their promotion to the Premier League in his first season. In the club’s maiden Premier League season Bellamy struggled to play two games in a week and had to manage his injuries carefully.

After a tough season, Cardiff were relegated and Bellamy made the tough decision to retire; citing spending the past four years taking anti-inflammatories daily as the primary reason. The pocket-sized striker with electrifying pace ended his career having scored 135 league goals, as well as 19 for Wales, and was just as explosive a character as he was a footballer. Perhaps legendary figure Bobby Robson said it best when describing Bellamy in his autobiography as ‘a great player wrapped round an unusual and volatile character’.

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The Nomad Footballer Series: Emmanuel Adebayor

Nomad: A person who does not stay long in the same place; a wanderer.

Clubs: Metz, Monaco, Arsenal, Manchester City, Real Madrid (loan), Tottenham Hotspur (loan), Tottenham Hotspur, Crystal Palace, Istanbul Basaksehir, Kayserispor, Olimpia

Countries played in: 5

Most professional footballers go through their whole career only having a handful of clubs. In fact, some manage to spend their whole career at just one club. Being a one-club man is something that endears football players to a fan base and is generally seen as the ultimate display of loyalty. However, what about those players that don’t manage to settle. The players who don’t find a home in their short professional career and instead jump from club to club in a pursuit of new challenges and success. This series looks at those players who are footballing nomads; wanderers.

Emmanuel Adebayor

Emmanuel Adebayor’s career had humble beginnings, with the Togo record goal scorer starting out at French club Metz. The striker was scouted by the club while playing for an academy in his homeland and was brought to the club in 1999, as a 15 year-old. He made his first team debut for the club in 2001 and was impressive in his two years playing for the first team, scoring 15 league goals in 44 games; 13 of which came in his second season after Metz had been relegated to Ligue 2. This earned him a move to Monaco, where he made nine Champions League appearances in the club’s run to the final of the competition in 2004, but was an unused substitute in the French side’s 3-0 defeat to Jose Mourinho’s Porto in the final.

It was in 2006, when Adebayor signed for Arsenal for £3 million, that Adebayor started to gain more attention. The gangly striker was a relative success in his three years at the Gunners, with his inclusion in the PFA Team of the Year for the 2008/09 season a personal highlight. He also became the first Premier League player to score a hat-trick against the same side twice in the same season, with Derby the unfortunate recipients. It appeared the Togo international had a settled home at the Emirates, however, when Manchester City came calling in 2009 it didn’t take long for Adebayor to agree to move.

It was at Manchester City that Adebayor had the moment he is most famous for, or infamous for if you are an Arsenal fan. The fourth game of is Manchester City career came against his former employer and, having scored his fourth goal in consecutive matches, the striker ran the full length of the pitch to celebrate in front of the irate Arsenal fans. If this wasn’t enough, he also appeared to stamp on Arsenal’s Robin Van Persie during the game and was accused of slapping Alex Song and attempting to stamp on Cesc Fabregas during the 4-2 victory. If Adebayor had any admirers left at Arsenal following his move he had well and truly burned his bridges now. The move to fierce North London rivals ,Tottenham Hotspur, in 2011 cemented this further, following a loan move to Real Madrid.

Since leaving Tottenham in 2015 aged 31, Adebayor’s long list of club grew further. He would have been forgiven for starting to think of retirement, but instead he joined another London club in Crystal Palace in 2016 as a free agent. However, after one goal in 12 Premier League appearances he was soon on the move once again. Turkey was his destination, first with Besiktas and then onto Kayserispor.

His most recent transfer has been his strangest to date, though. In February 2020 Adebayor joined Paraguayan first division club Olimpia, becoming the highest-paid, and highest-profile, footballer in Paraguayan football history. The 87 times capped Togo international only managed two league appearances before Covid-19 put a stop to football in Paraguay. Now unattached to a club, Adebayor is not officially retired, despite the fact he is now 37. With the 11 clubs he has on his footballing CV it would be no surprise to see Adebayor find himself another club, perhaps in another obscure footballing nation.

The longest Adebayor has spent at any one club in his career to date is three years; making him a true footballing nomad. His strange desire to alienate fans of his former clubs is a trait that means that it is difficult for any fanbase to reflect on his time with any great fondness. His perceived lack of loyalty may harm his footballing legacy in Europe, but in Africa, and more specifically Togo, he is considered a great. His 32 goals in 87 caps unrivalled, as well as being the second highest scoring African in Premier League history with 97 goals.

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Sam Allardyce’s West Brom Failure Could be Last Premier League Chance

Is this the last roll of the Allardyce?

When Slaven Bilic was relieved of his duties at West Bromwich Albion before Christmas, the club were quick to appoint Sam Allardyce. Seen as a safe pair of hands and a master at avoiding relegation, Allardyce’s approach has always been substance over style. This often divides fans of the clubs that he manages as the football is often a tough watch but it is hard to argue against results. However, with Allardyce having barely any impact at all since taking over at West Brom, perhaps the club made a mistake.

Allardyce’s most influential selling point prior to this season was the fact that he had never been relegated from the Premier League, but if he gets relegated this season, as it appears he will with a whimper, could this job be his last in the Premier League?

Football’s Evolution Leaving Defensive Managers Behind

When Pep Guardiola first joined Manchester City in 2016 there were doubts from the English media over whether his style would work in the Premier League. The Premier League was seen as too physical and too aggressive for his tika-taka stylwe, made so famous from his time at Barcelona, that it couldn’t possibly work in England. Almost five years later and Guardiola and his Manchester City side have made that very notion seem ridiculous, winning the Premier League twice, the FA Cup once and the EFL Cup on three consecutive occasions. In fact, in the 2017/18 season City cemented their place in football history, becoming the team to win the Premier League with the highest points total in Premier League history, ending the season woth an astonishing 100 points. Thus emphatically debunking the myth that the style that was so successful in Spain and Germany wouldn’t work in England.

Guardiola’s success has resulted in a huge shift in culture in English football and he is perhaps the most influential import into the Premier League in its history, possibly with the exception of Arsene Wenger. He has proven that you can be successful in the Premier League playing a brand of football that wasn’t previously thought possible in England. This culture shift has been embraced by football fans and they now have a certain expectation to be entertained by their side. Defensive football to stay in the league isn’t seen as enough and the manner in which a club plays is often the most important aspect to fans. The sides at the lower end of the table are adopting this mentality as well as the Premier League superpowers, with the likes of Southampton, Fulham and Brighton all playing an attractive brand of football while trying to stay in England’s top flight. This evolution in culture is paving the way for exciting, innovative coaches and, subsequently, defensive-minded, negative coaches are being left behind. This is exactly what looks set to happen with Sam Allardyce.

Allardyce’s crowing glory has always been that he has never been relegated from the top flight. He is often the first man clubs turn to when they are in trouble and the threat of relegation looms over them. When Everton were on a dismal run in 2017 and found themselves inexplicably close to the relegation zone they turned their attentions to Allardyce. Allardyce did the job he was brought in to do and led Everton to an eighth placed finish. However, the style was deemed unacceptable by the Everton faithful, who regularly vocally displayed their dissatisfaction. Allardyce left the club at the end of the season and may have appeared hard done by from the outside but, considering the players he had at his disposal, Everton recorded the fewest shots in the league, were 19th in terms of shots on target and 16th for passing accuracy in his time in charge. Everton fans demanded better.

Style or Substance

There is often the argument in football of style or substance. Jose Mourinho is a prime example of this, as someone who has achieved major things at the top of the game. His sides have rarely been an enjoyable watch and have often adopted a pragmatic approach, which in the past has led to trophies. Ultimately, when the result of the defensive approach is the top trophies such as league titles and Champions League trophies it is accepted. However, the problems arise when the success tops. Mourinho has not evolved with football at the top level and was sacked by Manchester United following growing discontent at the style of football. He was not playing the ‘Manchester United Way’. While this may seem arrogant from a fan base who have not won a title since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013, it is perhaps fair when you consider his tactics relied heavily on the influence of divisive figure Marouane Fellaini.

Now at Tottenham, Mourinho has taken one of the most exciting teams to watch in the country and turned them into a counter-attacking, defence-oriented side. This would be acceptable if it was just in the big games, or if the results were coming, but they are not. Tottenham play this way against almost every side in the Premier League. They will go 1-0 up and sit on that lead until, as has all too often been the case, they concede late and don’t have enough time to turn the tide of the game. Players like Harry Kane, one of the best strikers in world football, are being asked to defend for the best part of 90 minutes. Mourinho was brought in to win trophies, and he may do that with the EFL Cup, but his side sit 8th in the league at the time of writing and are out of the Europa League. He has failed to adapt his style and has taken the club so far backwards from where Mauricio Pochettino had worked so hard to get them to; combining an attractive, high-pressing style while ensuring Champions a league football year on year

Allardyce is the alternative to this. He is the Mourinho figure at the other end of the table. Perhaps over the years he is less to blame for his style than Mourinho due to the lesser resources he has had available to him at the clubs he has managed. Ultimately though, he is a substance over style manager and his job description has often been to keep the club in the Premier League no matter what. As referred to previously, this is no longer enough for the majority of fans.

Now at West Brom, he is at a side that have never been renowned for their style of football. He took over from a well-liked manager in Slaven Bilic, who deserved more time after getting the club promoted and subsequently not being backed in the transfer window by the board. Allardyce came in and was immediately backed in the January transfer window. Striker Mbaye Diagne was brought in on loan, while midfielders Robert Snodgrass, Okay Yokuslu, and Ainsley Maitalnd-Niles also joined the club. Yet Allardyce has had almost no impact at all. West Brom are ten points from safety and look set to go down with a whimper. The football is terrible and so are the results. The Baggies have won two league games in his 16 in charge and didn’t even get to enjoy the usual new manager bounce that often occurs when a manager comes in, with a 1-1 draw with Liverpool in his second game in charge the only notable result.

If, and likely when, West Brom are relegated, Allardyce will no longer be able to boast his record of never being relegated from the Premier League. It is difficult to see where his next Premier League job could come from due to his lack of impact at West Brom and the fact that football is moving further and further from his arguably outdated methods. Allardyce’s crowning glory came in July 2016, when he was appointed England manager after the nation’s shock Euro 2016 exit at the hands of Iceland. However, this lasted one game, with Allardyce leaving the role by mutual consent following allegations of malpractice. He has an 100% win record to his name, as England beat Slovakia 1-0 thanks to an injury time winner from Adam Lallana. However, if the manner of the victory was a sign of things to come, then England fans were spared potentially years of uninspired performances.

With failure at West Brom almost inevitable, it is difficult to envisage Allardyce having the appetite to continue in the job, even if the board allowed him the opportunity. He had previously retired in 2017 but was enticed out of retirement by the prospect of the Everton job. The man who has managed eight Premier League clubs becomes too expensive a gamble for clubs. His Premier League relegation escape acts have lost their guarantee and the short-term nature of his appointments become too risky without that, especially when you consider the division of the fanbase through the direct, often turgid, football. This looks to be Allardyce’s last role in the Premier League but, if a club finds themselves in trouble around December time next season, don’t be surprised to still find his name linked.

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Euro 2020: Who Should Make England’s 23 Man Squad

There are now just over three months to go until the postponed 2020 UEFA European Championships and just one international break between now and the end of the season. There will be a number of players doing all they can to secure a place in Gareth Southgate’s 23-man England squad in that time, with the squad far from guaranteed. If a place in a highly competitive squad wasn’t motivation enough, the final of the tournament is due to be played at Wembley; the home of English football.

Assuming that everyone is fit come the tournament in June, bar the likes of James Justin who are definitely ruled out through injury, this post looks at who should make Southgate’s squad if current form continues. One key consideration for this will be the system and the players that fit the way England are likely to play. In recent international fixtures Southgate has reverted to a back three, the system that brought so much joy in the 2018 World Cup in Russia. After being beaten by Croatia in the semi-finals of that tournament, England will be desperate to get to the final this summer.

Goalkeepers

Jordan Pickford

While Jordan Pickford has had some troubles with his club form since the 2018 World Cup, he has never let his country down. He performed heroics in England’s semi-final run in Russia and memories of his penalty shoot-out performance against Colombia mean he has credit in the bank in an England shirt. His distribution also sets him apart from his competitors for the number 1 shirt.

Nick Pope

Nick Pope is a solid and reliable keeper who is a brilliant shot stopper. He has 35 Premier League clean sheets in 100 appearances which is a fine record for a goalkeeper of a club used to finding themselves in the lower reaches of the table. Despite his four England caps, Pope has been around the England set-up for a while now and was actually a member of the 2018 World Cup squad. At 28, It feels like it is now or never for Pope to push for a starting role.

Dean Henderson

At 23 years-old Dean Henderson is a youngster in goalkeeping terms and yet he is highly ambitious and will believe he is ready to be England’s first-choice ‘keeper. Henderson decided against going out on loan again this season in order to stake a claim for David De Gea’s place at Manchester United and now, with De Gea unavailable for personal reasons, Henderson has his chance. This could be the turning point Henderson has waited for at United and he will be determined not to relinquish the position. Should he continue as United’s number 1 he will have every chance of dislodging Pickford for England.

Defenders

Harry Maguire

Harry Maguire has received his fair share of criticism over the past couple of seasons following his move to Manchester United. The heavily reported incident in Greece also did not help matters. Since then, Maguire has kept his head down and concentrated on his football and his performances have benefitted immensely. When Maguire is good he is very good and his presence in both boxes is a real asset for England. Maguire is a player that Southgate trusts and he is a leader, taking the Manchester United captaincy in his first season at the club. If Maguire is fit he will play.

John Stones

After the highs of the 2018 World Cup campaign in Russia came the low of seemingly being deemed surplus to requirements for John Stones. Pep Guardiola omitted Stones from his Manchester City side due to a lack of trust in the defender which subsequently led Southgate to have no choice but to leave the centre-back out of his England squad due to lack of game time. However, Stones’ career has seen a real revival this season, forming a formidable partnership with Ruben Dias at the heart of the City defence. On current form, Southgate cannot ignore Stones any longer.

Joe Gomez

It is expected that Joe Gomez will be fit again by the summer, but whether he will have enough match sharpness may well be another matter. If he can prove his fitness between now and the end of the season then it is highly likely he will have a spot in Southgate’s squad waiting for him. He was the perfect partner for Virgil Van Dijk at Liverpool in their Premier League title win last season and is a very good defender, whilst also being reasonably comfortable on the ball. He struggles at times without Van Dijk by his side so will need vocal players around him should he fit into England’s backline.

Tyrone Mings

The solid displays of Everton pair Michael Keane and Ben Godfrey may well have caught Southgate’s eye, but Tyrone Mings is still expected to be just ahead of them in the pecking order. Mings has had a fine season himself for a revitalised Aston Villa side and his club defensive partner Ezri Konsa could even be in with a chance of earning a call-up, although he is running out of time to impress with this month’s international break the last before the summer. Mings has a towering presence and loves to command the back line. The fact that he is left-footed also works in his favour as it brings balance to the team, especially in a back three.

Trent Alexander-Arnold

Trent Alexander-Arnold has been one of the stand out members of Liverpool’s all conquering side over the last three seasons. His technical ability is up there with the best despite his youth and he is one of the trailblazers that is reinventing the role of a full-back. Despite this, it feels like the 22-year-old’s England career is yet to really get going. Southgate has trusted Kieran Trippier a lot in his tenure and Kyle Walker has also played his part. Right-back is a position where England are blessed with options and Alexander-Arnold must now kick on and make the position his own. The area where Alexander-Arnold may need to earn Southgate’s trust is in his defensive work. Improve on this and he will be England’s right-back for years to come.

Luke Shaw

In stark contrast to the right-back position, England lack depth at left-back. Therefore, Luke Shaw’s fine season so far could be a blessing for Southgate. Shaw seems to finally be realising his potential and is consistently playing at Manchester United, something that injury has all too often not allowed him to do. Shaw’s emergence could be bad news for Ben Chilwell. Since signing for Chelsea, Chilwell has flattered to deceive and has struggled to justify his £50 million price tag. With spaces limited he could well miss out this summer.

Aaron Wan-Bissaka

If Southgate doesn’t act to assure Aaron Wan-Bissaka of his England future soon he will lose him to DR Congo. Wan-Bissaka is defensively the best of the right-backs that Southgate has available to him and his attacking play is improving game by game. He has the characteristics to play a similar centre-back role that Kyle Walker was converted to in the 2018 World Cup and his defensive acumen and physical build actually make him a more desirable option in this position. His inclusion does not necessarily need to come at the expense of another right-back.

Reece James

Reece James may only be 21 but he plays with a maturity well beyond his years. With Trippier’s gambling ban putting his England future in doubt and Kyle Walker’s recent discipline issues, it may pave the way for James to come into the squad. The Chelsea defender only made his senior England debut in October 2020, and was sent off after the full time whistle in bizarre circumstances in his second game against Denmark, but he has impressed in each of his four appearances for his country. James is also comfortable in the right-wing-back-role as he has shown at club level which works in his favour. James is a quick, intelligent player and a fine crosser of the ball which makes him a real asset going forward. Defensively he is sound as well and could therefore push Alexander-Arnold very hard for a starting role.

Bukayo Saka

Bukayo Saka is another who has taken the chance to impress in recent internationals. He burst onto the scene at Arsenal last season at left-back despite this not being his favoured position. This season he has played all across the Arsenal midfield and has taken on real responsibility with his performances, despite still being only 19. It is likely that if he is to make the squad he will be viewed as a left-wing-back due to England’s embarrassment of riches further forward but his attacking ability could be of real use to England, especially against weaker opposition where Southgate’s side will dominate possession.

Midfielders

Jordan Henderson

Liverpool’s captain is a real leader in the England camp and if Kane is ever absent Jordan Henderson will take the armband. His performances for the Merseyside club have been a huge factor in their success over the last few seasons and his drive and influence on his teammates should not be undermined. Despite this, it feels as though the 30-year-old is yet to have a real career defining moment in an England shirt and perhaps this summer will change that.

Declan Rice

Declan Rice’s performances for West Ham United this season are a huge factor in them pushing for a European spot. The 22 year-old has played every game in the Premier League this season for the Hammers and is improving all the time. David Moyes has even come out and said that he values Rice at more than £100 million, such is his importance to his side. A real leader who cuts out a lot of opposition attacks, Rice has also improved his influence in possession with his ability to pick a pass into the front players becoming a real strength of his game.

Mason Mount

Mason Mount is another who has taken a considerable amount of responsibility at club level despite his youth. Football fans seemed divided on Mount last season. He was seen as Frank Lampard’s golden boy but his influence under new Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel has increased if anything, putting this notion to bed. His eye for goal and intelligence in and out of possession are his greatest strengths, with the 22 year-old always looking to win the ball high up the pitch with his energetic pressing. Three goals in his 13 England appearances so far show that he can take his game to international level and he will only get better.

Kalvin Phillips

Kalvin Phillips is very much a newcomer to the international fold, with four England caps to his name. The 25 year-old defensive midfielder is similar in style to Declan Rice and will be expected to play second fiddle to the likely central midfield pairing of Rice and Henderson. There was a lot of clamour around Phillips whilst Leeds United were still in the Championship but now that he is performing consistently well in the Premier League Southgate has integrated him into his England squad. Realistically it is between Phillips and Southampton’s James Ward-Prowse to provide central midfield back up in a position where England are unusually lacking. Ward-Prowse’s set piece expertise work hugely in his favour but Southgate has been keen to trial Phillips in more recent fixtures; although Ward-Prowse pulled out of the last squad through injury.

Phil Foden

Pep Guardiola labelled Phil Foden a £500 million player and, while this may be an exaggeration, it is evidence of how highly regarded the Stockport-born player is. Foden took a risk by staying at Manchester City when previously games seemed hard to come by but he trusted the process and has undoubtedly benefitted from learning from the likes of David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne. Now that David Silva has left the club, Foden has gone a long way to filling to void left by the Spaniard. Foden’s influence in big games has improved drastically, as shown by his masterful performance it City’s 4-1 win over Liverpool in February. The 20 year-old is a generational talent and, if nurtured correctly, could go down as one of the greats. His ability to glide with the ball at his feet as well as his creativity and eye for goal make him a nightmare to play against and his work rate is second to none as well; the minimum requirement to play in a Pep Guardiola team.

Jack Grealish

It took Jack Grealish far too long to be involved in the England set-up but he is now surely there to stay. His performances for his boyhood club, Aston Villa, have gone to another level this season and in his short England career so far he has shown he not only fits in at that level, but thrives. His UEFA Nations League performance against Belgium last year was made even more remarkable by the freedom with which he played while being so new to the team. Grealish should not only be in the squad but Southgate must find a position for him, at this stage in his career he cannot be ignored. The only criticism of Grealish in the past was a lack of end product. He’s now turned this into his strength, notching six goals and ten assists in 22 Premier League games this term.

Attackers

Harry Kane

Harry Kane is England’s captain and talisman and, provided he is fit, will be the first name on Southgate’s team sheet this summer. Kane is prolific and has adapted his game further still this season to provide more chances for his teammates; his 13 Premier League assists this term evidence of this. With 32 goals in 51 England games, and the fact he is still only 27, the Tottenham Hotspur striker looks well on course to break Wayne Rooney’s record 53 England goals. He has delivered on the biggest stage too, winning the World Cup Golden Boot in 2018, finishing the tournament with six goals.

Raheem Sterling

Raheem Sterling does not get enough praise for the role he played in England’s semi-final run in the 2018 World Cup. His lack of goals in the tournament did not tell the whole story, with the Manchester City winger the perfect foil to Harry Kane. Since then, however, his contributions in an England shirt have been there for all to see. Sterling has scored 11 England goals since the 2018 World Cup, having only scored once for his country prior to that. An often under-appreciated player, Sterling’s goal contributions have improved hugely under Guardiola’s management and if he is in-form come the summer he could be vital to England’s chances of success.

Marcus Rashford

Marcus Rashford is remarkably still only 23 years-old. The Manchester United academy product burst onto the scene in 2016, scoring twice on his first team debut against Midtjylland in the UEFA Europa League and hasn’t looked back since. He already has 40 England caps to his name and is very much a part of the furniture in the England set up. Rashford has featured in every single game for Manchester United this season and is increasingly taking more responsibility for his club. With 18 goals and ten assists in all competitions this season, Rashford will be keen to add to his 11 international goals this summer. Whether he will be a guaranteed starter remains to be seen but he will certainly have an important role to play in the summer.

Jadon Sancho

Jadon Sancho is perhaps often overlooked as a key member of England’s squad for this summer’s tournament, owing mainly to the fact he plays his club football in Germany. However, his ability is up there with any young player in world football and Southgate will have to manage his forward line effectively to be able to keep everyone happy. England’s most skilful player with the ball at his feet, Sancho will be determined to earn a starting spot for England. After coming under pressure following his poor form early in the season, which was largely put down to a summer of intense transfer speculation, Sancho is back to his best scoring goals and getting assists on a frequent basis. The 20 year-old has 15 Bundesliga goals and assists this season, having not found the net once prior to the winter break, and has already notched three England goals in his fledgling international career.

Dominic Calvert-Lewin

Had the Euros gone ahead last year as planned, Dominic Calvert-Lewin may have narrowly missed out to Southampton’s Danny Ings. Ings finished last season with 22 Premier League goals, while Calvert-Lewin had just started to find the net regularly for Everton. Fast forward to this season and Calvert-Lewin has continued scoring regularly with 13 league goals to date. In contrast, Ings has faced an injury hit season in which goals have proved more difficult to come by, although he has still managed eight league goals. Ancelotti’s management has taken Calvert-Lewin’s game to levels few would have thought possible in the past and the work the striker has put in must also be praised. In a squad that is sure to be full of attacking midfielders and wingers, Calvert-Lewin will likely be the most natural back-up to Kane as a number 9.

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Every Premier League Club’s Most Underrated Player

The Premier League is rife with big name stars that stand out for their respective teams week on week. The likes of Kevin De Bruyne, Bruno Fernandes and Mohamed Salah find themselves discussed at length by football pundits, journalists and fans alike on a frequent basis.

However, what about the other players in the league. The players who quietly go about their business but in many ways are no less crucial to their club than the players whose shadow they often find themselves in. This post guides you through the Premier League’s most underrated players, with one player from each club taking the limelight their performances deserve.

Arsenal

Gabriel

Arsenal have had their fair share of defensive issues over the past few years and this year is no different in that respect. However, one positive has been the addition of Gabriel to their back line. The 23 year-old has looked the most solid of the Arsenal defence despite it being his first season in England and has even popped up with two league goals in the process. Had it not been for Gabriel, Arsenal may well find themselves in a far worse position and with William Saliba’s Arsenal career getting off to a rocky start, having been sent out on loan, it could be that Gabriel is the future stalwart in Arsenal’s defence.

Aston Villa

Ezri Konsa

Aston Villa have looked a completely transformed side this season and are a far cry from the team that scraped Premier League survival last season. Jack Grealish, Tyrone Mings and Ollie Watkins understandably get a lot of the headlines but one man that has been vital to his side’s form is Ezri Konsa. The young centre back joined Aston Villa from Brentford in 2019 and had a tough first season in the Premier League last season, as did a number of his teammates. However, this season he has formed a formidable partnership with Mings and with Matty Cash and Matt Targett at fullback, and Emiliano Martinez in goal, Villa’s defence is in very safe hands.

Brighton and Hove Albion

Solly March

Solly March has been at Brighton for a decade and has made 186 league appearances for the Seagulls in that time. March made his debut for the club in the Championship in 2013 and has been a key component of their time in the Premier League. However, March often found himself in and out of the starting line up since they made their Premier League debut in 2017.

It is only this season under Graham Potter’s guidance that the 26 year-old has become one of the first names on the Brighton team sheet, adapting from being a direct winger to an energetic wing-back to fit Potter’s system. March injured his knee in Brighton’s impressive 1-0 victory over Liverpool at the start of February and is expected to face a lengthy spell on the side lines which is a huge blow to a Brighton team that finds themselves at the wrong end of the Premier League table, and with little natural alternatives in the left wing-back position.

Burnley

Josh Brownhill

When Josh Brownhill signed for Burnley from Bristol City in January 2020 he came with a glowing reputation as an impressive Championship player. It was strange, then, that it took him a while to break into the Burnley starting line up. However, Sean Dyche is particular about what he wants from his midfielders and is often a low risk manager in terms of throwing players in at the deep end. Since then, though, Brownhill has made sure that Dyche can’t ignore him when selecting his team. Brownhill has 20 Premier League appearances to his name already this season and has impressed in both central midfield and on the right of a compact midfield.

Chelsea

Matteo Kovacic

You don’t have Inter Milan, Real Madrid and Chelsea on your CV without being a very talented player. However, Matteo Kovacic rarely gets the plaudits his performances deserve. He could perhaps add more goals and assists to his game but in terms of ball retention and technique he is becoming a very important player for Chelsea. His 63 caps for Croatia at international level, a team with an abundance of quality in midfield, is further evidence of his qualities. At 26, Kovacic is approaching his prime and will be hoping to become one of the first names on the team sheet for club and country.

Crystal Palace

Cheikhou Kouyate

Cheikhou Kouyate is the definition of an unsung hero. His transfer from West Ham to Crystal Palace in the summer of 2018 went very much under the radar, despite the reported £9.5 million fee. Since being at Palace he has played 88 Premier League games and the midfielder has more recently adapted his game to become a very capable centre-back, often starting in this unfamiliar role ahead of more natural central defenders in James Tomkins and Scott Dann. His 129 league appearances for West Ham prior to the move across London further evidence his ability to perform at the top level.

Everton

Ben Godfrey

While Ben Godfrey’s initial £20 million transfer fee, paid by Everton to Norwich in October 2020, suggests that he is a highly rated player, this was a transfer that went somewhat under the radar. This owes a lot to the arrivals of James Rodriguez and Allan, from Real Madrid and Napoli respectively. However, Godfrey has forced his way into the side, whether that be by adapting to play right back, or more recently left back, or the rare occasions that Ancelotti has allowed him to play centre back. There is no doubt that the 23 year-old will secure a spot in his favoured centre back position in the near future and will be a top defender for many years to come. If he maintains his impressive form he could find himself with an outside chance of being included in Gareth Southgate’s England squad, having previously made seven appearances for the U21 side.

Fulham

Bobby Cordova-Reid

Bobby Cordova-Reid’s first spell in the Premier League ended in misery as his Cardiff side were relegated in the 2018/19 season. Unless Fulham can pull off a great escape under Scott Parker’s management it looks likely that his second spell could end the same way. However, this will be no fault of Cordova-Reid’s. The Jamaica international made his name as a striker and scored five league goals for Cardiff in the aforementioned Premier League season. This season he has scored five league goals already, made even more impressive by the fact Parker has utilised him in a right wing-back role for much of the season. With Fulham now only three points behind Newcastle following an upturn in form, Cordova-Reid will be a key figure in the battle for survival.

Leeds United

Stuart Dallas

Stuart Dallas has spent the majority of his career as a winger so the fact that he is impressing on a weekly basis at full back in the Premier League is testament to the way he’s adapted his game. Marcelo Bielsa is as far from conventional as football managers get and his demanding nature and fluid philosophy mean that individuals must evolve their game or move on. Dallas has bought into this and still often finds himself in a midfield role when required. His efforts have paid off as now, as a 29 year-old, he is playing at the highest level of his career in the Premier League and has four goals and two assists to his name. The Northern Ireland international, capped 53 times by his country, will be hoping that this is just the start of his Premier League journey.

Leicester City

Marc Albrighton

Released by Aston Villa in 2014, Marc Albrighton’s story is typical of the Leicester City fairytale Premier League win of 2015/16. The winger played in every game of the Foxes Premier League winning season and has made 274 Premier League appearances in total. Despite this, he still remains an underrated part of the Leicester side. He has slotted in at right wing-back on a number of occasions as well as his more natural position of on the wing and is one of the most hardworking players in the league. There is no doubt that his Leicester teammates appreciate his work but it is time he was recognised more widely for his impact.

Liverpool

Georginio Wijnaldum

‘Gini’ Wijnaldum is loved at Liverpool. When the Dutchman signed from Newcastle United in 2016 the signing was not met with a great deal of excitement from his new club’s fans. Fast forward four-and-a-half years and Wijnaldum is a Champions League, Premier League and Club World Cup winner. His role in each success should not be undermined. He is a vital cog in Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool machine and if he is available then generally he plays, such is his importance. He doesn’t tend to play the Hollywood pass or score a wonder goal but he keeps Liverpool ticking and pops up with vital goals for the Reds. With his contract due to expire in the summer there is talk of a reunion with former Netherlands manager Ronald Koeman at Barcelona. It may be that many people don’t realise his impact until he’s gone.

Manchester City

Bernardo Silva

It is difficult to be underrated when you play for one of the best sides in the world but Bernardo Silva is just that. He was a key part of Manchester City’s 100 point Premier League winning season and his lesser involvement last season undoubtedly coincided with City’s poor title defence. Back in favour in Pep Guardiola’s more pragmatic City side, Silva is again showing his quality. He mixes hard work with technical ability and is a very gifted dribbler, often gliding past opponents. The Portugal international has 21 goals and 21 assists in his time in the Premier League so far and is integral to City’s midfield, particularly now his namesake David Silva has moved on to Real Sociedad.

Manchester United

Scott McTominay

Scott McTominay is a throwback of a central midfielder. Aggressive, physical and full of energy he is always a nuisance for the opposition and an underappreciated player for Manchester United. He doesn’t start every game but he is almost always trusted in the biggest games by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer which is evidence of his importance to his side. He has been used primarily as a defensive midfielder in his time in the first team but has recently developed into more of a box-to-box midfield player. This season he has started to add more goals to his game with seven in all competitions so far this season. He is far more able technically than he is given credit for and allows the likes of Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba to express themselves. He is sure to continue to be an important player for United and his selfless attitude is something many of the club’s fans will find endearing.

Newcastle United

Fabian Schar

Newcastle United have struggled under Steve Bruce this season, with large portions of their fanbase tired by the perceived lack of ambition to his playing style. Especially when you consider that, compared to recent managers, Bruce has been given a sizeable transfer budget. One player who often goes under the radar at Newcastle is a player that Bruce adopted, Fabian Schar. Schar is currently side lined with ruptured knee ligaments and, with his contract due to expire in the summer, fans will be worried that he may have played his last game for the Magpies. The 29 year-old has played 58 times for Switzerland scoring eight times. He has scored six Premier League goals for Newcastle as well, showing his impact in both boxes. However, his most notable goal for the club came from outside the box, a powerful thirty-yard strike in a 2-0 win over Burnley.

Sheffield United

John Fleck

Sheffield United have come crashing down to Earth this season after a shock ninth-place finish in their return to the Premier League last season. This season they find themselves bottom of the table and 14 points off safety with 13 games to play. Despite the obvious troubles, some of their players have still impressed this season, although perhaps not as much as last. John Fleck is one such player. The four-times capped Scotland international always injects energy into the Sheffield United midfield and has a decent left foot to compliment his hard-work. He has chipped in with two assists this season in the league but is yet to get off the mark in terms of goals which will disappoint him after netting five goals in 2019/20. Should the Blades be relegated, as it looks they inevitably will, there are sure to be a number of clubs in the market for Fleck.

Southampton

Stuart Armstrong

Danny Ings is the primary goalscorer and thus main man at Southampton. James Ward-Prowse is arguably the best set-piece taker in the Premier League. However, Stuart Armstrong is perhaps one of the most underrated players in England’s top flight. The Scotsman joined Southampton in 2018 and struggled initially to get in the side, unable to hold down a position in central midfield or as a number ten.

Since Hasenhuttl reverted to his favoured 4-2-2-2 formation Armstrong has thrived. Usually found in the right-sided number ten position, Armstrong is often tasked with driving the Saints forward and breaking the lines. As an unorthodox inverted winger he has licence to pop up anywhere across the frontline in Hasenhuttl’s fluid system and always has an eye for goal. His 11 goals in his three Premier League seasons evidence of this.

Tottenham Hotspur

Giovani Lo Celso

Despite the fact that he joined Tottenham Hotspur in the summer of 2019, initially on loan, it feels as though Giovani Lo Celso is yet to have a proper run in the team. It took a while for Mauricio Pochettino to give Lo Celso his chance and he has found himself in and out of the team under Jose Mourinho. He has been unfortunate with injuries in that time too, but if the 24 year-old manages to keep himself fit for a prolonged period of time and gains his manager’s trust he could become a very important player for Tottenham.

He is an attacking midfielder with an industrious side and the ability to play deeper which you would think would be a quality that Mourinho would appreciate. He is technically very good and a strong dribbler with a cultured left-foot. However, his numbers aren’t yet good enough, especially when you consider he is the most similar player in the Tottenham squad to the now departed Christian Eriksen. The Argentine didn’t manage a Premier League goal last season and only has one to his name this season but has managed four goals in the Europa League which shows he does have an eye for goal. Should he improve his goals and assists frequency he could become far more influential in this Tottenham side.

West Bromwich Albion

Sam Johnstone

West Bromwich Albion may be having a disappointing season following their promotion from the Championship but one man that is standing out for them is goalkeeper Sam Johnstone. The 27 year-old former Manchester United ‘keeper may have only kept three clean sheets in the Premier League this season but that is through little fault of his own. It is likely West Brom would already be dead and buried in their fight for survival had it not been for Johnstone’s heroics. With England’s third goalkeeper spot up for grabs it could be that Johnstone forces his was into Gareth Southgate’s plans come the summer.

West Ham United

Craig Dawson

When Craig Dawson joined on a season long loan from Watford in the summer, fans of other clubs could be forgiven for not knowing the deal had happened. The former West Brom defender went very much under the radar and had to bide his time to get his chance at the Hammers. Since getting into the side in January the 30 year-old has been a rock in the centre of the West Ham defence, keeping five clean sheets in his ten consecutive Premier League appearances. Dawson has also popped up with two goals in this time, ensuring that he is now a vital member of David Moyes’ rejuvinated side.

Wolverhampton Wanderers

Leander Dendoncker

When Leander Dendoncker signed for Wolves from Anderlecht in 2018 he was a central midfielder. He has played a number of games in that position for Wolves but more recently he has dropped into the back three, marshalled by Conor Coady, and excelled. Dendoncker stands at 6 foot 2 so doesn’t struggle with the aerial pressures of the role, while his midfield background means that he is very comfortable on the ball and can pick passes into the midfield. He doesn’t get many of the plaudits when Wolves are discussed but he is undoubtedly a very important player for Nuno Espirito Santo’s side. The 25 year-old’s 12 senior Belgium caps are further proof of his ability, especially when you consider the quality in the Belgian midfield.

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PSG: Why Pochettino and why now?

After a 4-0 win against Strasbourg, PSG surprisingly made the decision to sack head coach Thomas Tuchel. The man who has won the club a domestic double and lost marginally in the Champions League final the previous season a sluggish start to this season’s league campaign marked the end of the German’s reign. It is well known how desperate PSG’s owners are to win the Champions League and therefore the notable progress of reaching the final led many to believe Tuchel would be given more time. However, player power is paramount at PSG and it appears that he may have lost the backing of some of the club’s star names. Mauricio Pochettino looks set to be the man to replace Tuchel following a year away from the game. This begs the question why Pochettino and why now? The French club could have waited to see the outcome of this season but decided to act swiftly. This post explores the reasons why that may be and why this is a move that could make sense for both PSG and Pochettino.

Why for PSG:

A pattern has emerged at PSG. A manager comes in and wins the league at a canter. The French Cup usually follows and the club then proceed to fall short in the Champions League. This becomes not enough to satisfy the board and a new manager is appointed. The club needs a new direction. It looks from the outside as though the club stagnated under Tuchel and the players perhaps grew tired of his methods. With Pochettino in charge there will definitely be a fresh energy brought to the club with a new style of play implemented. His style is fast-paced and high energy and if the players buy into it then it could be a sight to behold. If Pochettino can get Neymar, Mbappe et al on board with the work rate required to implement his philosophy the tools are there for a period of real success.

Pochettino’s level of success will depend heavily on Neymar and Mbappe

This sounds simple in theory, but the reality could be all too different. As a number of managers have discovered to their dismay, the players are king at the Parisian club. Player power is paramount and its frequently reported that the likes of Neymar, Mbappe and Di Maria run the dressing room. Tuchel’s title was first team coach, not manager, and this perhaps says a lot about the balance of power at the club. The board are reluctant to place too much power in the coach’s hands while they constantly seek to keep a harmonious dressing room. It is hard to envisage Pochettino getting more power than his predecessors, although he may have negotiated a level of control into his contract discussions. However, this is a role in which Pochettino has worked before with great success. His title at Tottenham was first team coach and he held the same title at Southampton before that.

While Pochettino was successful in this position, his relationship with Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy became strained at time due to his perceived lack of power. This was very much apparent when the chairman went over a year without buying a player for Pochettino’s side despite his protestations. However, it is difficult to see a lack of signings being problematic for Pochettino in his new surroundings, although keeping players may be just as important. Neymar is constantly linked with a move to Barcelona, although it doesn’t sound as though the Catalan club could fund a move for the Brazilian in the near future. Mbappe is similarly constantly linked with a move elsewhere but again it would be incredibly difficult for any club to find the money to sign him.

Own reason that PSG are likely to have earmarked Pochettino is his Champions League final run with Tottenham. Ultimately it ended in defeat, as PSG’s final appearance did last season, however Pochettino’s lack of spending and the way he got his side to the final impressed football fans across the world. With money to play with and his methods implemented PSG and Pochettino could be a very fruitful partnership. However, Pochettino should be under no illusions that winning the Champions League is the obsession in Paris and failure to do so is likely to ultimately result in Poch seeking a new job.

One of the frustrations fans of PSG have had in recent years is the exodus of young talent from the club who have gone on to impress elsewhere. Rather than clear a pathway to the first team the board have more often than not opted to sign experienced players rather than mould and develop their own young prospects. One of Pochettino’s greatest strength as a coach is his ability to develop and improve players, particularly ones he can nurture from a young age. The likes of Deli Alli, Harry Kane, Heung-Min Son are all prime example of this. The list of young stars who have left the club shows that, had they the patience to develop their potential, they would have an even greater embarrassment of quality all over the pitch. Whether Pochettino will be granted enough power to change PSG’s recent approach to young talent is unclear but this may be one of the reasons he was so keenly courted by the club. The following list shows just how much talent the French Champions have let leave in recent years, with it hard to argue that a number of the individuals wouldn’t improve the current side. The club that they left for is also listed with Lille the main benefactors.

Tanguy Kouassi – Bayern Munich

Adil Aouchiche – St Etienne

Timothy Weah – Lille

Kingsley Coman – Juventus

Matteo Guendouzi – Arsenal

Claudio Gomes – Man City

Yacine Adli – Bordeaux

Boubakary Soumare – Lille

Moussa Diaby – Bayer Leverkusen

Jonathan Ikone – Lille

Christopher Nkunku – RB Leipzig

Odsonne Edouard – Celtic

Moussa Dembele – Fulham

Axel Zagadou – Borussia Dortmund

Mike Maignan – Lille

Coman scored the winner in the Champions League final against his former club.

Why for Pochettino?

So, the appointment could well make a lot of sense for PSG, but why has Pochettino taken this job after waiting so patiently for the right project?

The one argument that is always used against the Argentinian is that he has never won a career trophy. The fact that he has managed Espanyol, Southampton and Tottenham, none of who have won anything of note in their recent history, conveniently forgotten. However, by going to PSG there is no doubt that this argument can be put to bed, although the fact that PSG expect to win their domestic league every season may mean that this still doesn’t satisfy the critics. For Pochettino himself though, this is a chance to get some silverware under his belt and have a real crack at the Champions League, something he managed to punch above his weight and do at Tottenham. He didn’t win trophies at Tottenham but he was a victim of his own success. He made top four finishes a regular thing at Tottenham and impressed in the Champions League. However, things went stale towards the end and the players seemed exhausted by his methods which demand 100% commitment. His lack of trophies was held against him but the reality is he turned Tottenham into a real force and left the club in a far better position than he found it in when he joined.

As alluded to previously, Pochettino has coached and developed a number of talents. He won’t have managed any natural talents of the likes of Neymar and Mbappe, however. Super stars of the game to which the most outrageous of things come too easy. This will excite Pochettino, as it would any manager, and will be a huge factor to him taking the job.

Another huge factor will be the benefit of something Pochettino hasn’t had so far in his career. The benefit of vast sums of money to spend, although Financial Fair Play will restrict this partly. Neither Espanyol nor Southampton were able to provide Pochettino with much money to play with and, while Tottenham are by no means a poor club, Daniel Levy is not known for departing with his money easily. PSG on the other hand are all too happy to spend big on players who can take them to the next level and already boast the two most expensive signings of all time in Neymar and Mbappe. Rumours are already circulating that Pochettino could be set to look to players he has worked with previously and Hugo Llorus and Christian Eriksen have already been mentioned, as well as Dele Alli who was already linked with the club prior to Pochettino’s appointment. The opportunity to have a greater say on transfers will also have been a factor in his decision and it will be interesting to see if the players signed are those Pochettino would want or follow the trend of previous board signings.

Pochettino and Alli could soon be reunited in Paris

A factor that cannot be overlooked is the fact that Pochettino played for the club for two seasons in the early 2000’s. He has spoke fondly of his time in Paris and has said in the past how much he would love to one day coach his former side. This dream has become reality and the hard work starts now to put the wheels in motion for a shot at Champions League success.

The risk

While this appointment has all the makings of a fairytale partnership, there are variables that could mean this ends in disaster. If the stars of the club such as Neymar and Mbappe don’t buy into Pochettino’s methods then things could turn sour. These players have a huge influence over the PSG dressing room and generally if they are happy the club is a better place. Due to the nature of these players there may have to be some compromise on both sides. Neymar in particular may have to sacrifice himself slightly to do a bit more out of possession but Pochettino may have to compromise by allowing Neymar and possibly Mbappe greater freedom in his tactics.

For Pochettino himself he could fall victim to the pressure of expectation, as so many have before him. Domestic trophies are the bare minimum for PSG and they are expected to win them in style. However, the Champions League trophy remains elusive and, in truth, last season was the only time they have come close to glory in recent years. Anything less than Champions League glory will be viewed as a failure by the fans and board alike, if not this season then in the very near future.

While it would be naive to assume Pochettino has committed to the club to only enhance his reputation in terms of trophies won it may be that unless he has success in Europe then he won’t leave the job with his stock any greater than when he joined. The state of league competition in France’s top flight is poor and no one in the league can match PSG’s financial might. The poor domestic league impacts the club’s chances in Europe year on year. They simply do not have enough sides of the quality of their Champions League in their own league. When it comes to big Champions League nights it can be difficult to flick the switch to play at their highest level. To add to this, with the ease at which they tend to win domestically motivation can be an issue.

Domestic trophies are the bare minimum. Desperate for Champions League win and anything less than that is seen as a failure.

Can Pochettino motivate these players to work harder and run more when they know they are likely to win the league regardless? This job could prove highly successful for Pochettino and PSG and fans will be very excited to see what he can do with the array of talent at the club. However, make no mistake about it, if the club aren’t winning the league at a canter and challenging at the very latter stages of the Champions League this job could prove to be a poisoned chalice for Pochettino, as it has been for Tuchel and a number of his predecessors.

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Premier League Cult Heroes: Tim Cahill

The 5 foot 10 forward who jumped like he had springs in his boots.

Tim Cahill’s jumping ability was remarkable, as demonstrated by the sheer number of headers the Australian scored throughout his career. He was a real warrior of a player with a keen eye for goal that would often be followed by his signature celebration, boxing against the corner flag.

Cahill left his homeland in 1997 as a free agent aged 19 to join Millwall in the English third tier and enjoyed success with the London club, winning the third tier title in the 2000/01 season. He also played a pivotal role in Millwall’s run to the 2004 FA Cup final, scoring the winner in the semi-final. Millwall lost 3-0 to Manchester United in the final, but Cahill had gained the attention of a number of clubs. Everton was to be the Australian’s destination and would be his only Premier League club, spending eight seasons on the blue side of Merseyside.

In his first season at the club, the 2004/05 season, Cahill was Everton’s top goalscorer and player of the season, having found the net 11 times in the league. An instant success. Due to this impressive first season, Cahill was named in the top 50 of the Ballon D’or shortlist, becoming the first Everton player to do so in 18 years in the process.

Cahill, or ‘Tiny Tim’ as Everton fans lovingly referred to him, would make a total of 226 Premier League appearances, scoring 56 times, before leaving to join New York Red Bulls in 2012. Remarkably 22 of his 55 Premier League goals were headers. He is also his country’s greatest ever goalscorer and is a legend in his homeland. He ended his international career in 2018, 14 years after his debut, and had been a surprise inclusion in the 2018 World Cup squad aged 38. He scored 50 goals in 108 goals for Australia and was also the first Australian to score a World Cup goal, netting a brace against Japan in Australia’s opening group game at the 2006 World Cup. He would go on to score at three consecutive World Cups, also netting in 2010 and 2014.

A legend in his homeland as well as at Everton, Tim Cahill is a real Premier League cult hero.

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Premier League Cult Heroes: Michu

He came to the Premier League an unknown, he left a cult hero.

The left-field hero of young sensation Erling Haaland, Michu was signed by Swansea for the 2012/13 season. He was an instant success and ran riot in the Premier League in his first season, with his 22 goals in all competitions securing Swansea a 9th placed finish and a 5-0 League Cup final win. He even earned a solitary Spain cap in October 2013, starting in a 2-1 win over Belarus in a 2014 World Cup qualifier. Ironically, Swansea fans were underwhelmed when the £2m signing was unveiled after the club had lost Gylfi Sigurdsson, Joe Allen and Scott Sinclair in the same window.

However, just as quickly as he became a striking sensation, injuries ravaged Michu. The Spanish striker only managed two more Premier League goals after his first season. It was agreed that his Swansea contract would be terminated in November 2015 and he would retire less than two years later, aged just 31. A tale of a career snatched away far too early and perhaps the definition of a one season wonder, even if it was down to injuries.

The flash in the pan nature of his Premier League career is what makes his story so remarkable. He came, scored two goals on his debut, and then never looked back until the season end. His signature celebration of cranking his hand by his ear had was a frightfully regular sight in that one glorious campaign for Michu and Swansea. A celebration that has since been replicated by his biggest fan, Haaland. Is Michu the best ‘one season wonder’ in Premier League history?

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Premier League Cult Heroes: Rory Delap

The footballer whose legacy is throwing a ball.

The wet windy night at Stoke has become far too cliched in recent years but Rory Delap and co. are the reason this saying was coined. Upon their arrival to the Premier League, under the stewardship of perennial club-cap-wearer Tony Pulis, Stoke were in no mood to make friends. Their style was one that respected no one, regardless of the oppositions, and ruffled many a feather on the way.

Clubs tried everything to combat Delap’s infamous long throws. Denying the player a towel, moving the advertisement boards closer to the pitch so he couldn’t get a run up, warming up in front of him. Clubs would genuinely rather concede a corner than a throw in against the Potters, such was the fear the aerial bombardment had struck in them. Many players lost the game before it had begun against Stoke. They were a throwback of a team. A team of bruisers who had no time for egos. Shawcross, Huth, Whelan, Walters to name just a few. How many clubs consistently brought their centre halves up for a throw in? However, when the throw in was as useful a tool as Stoke made it, Delap was priceless. He could throw the ball from the halfway line to the opposition goal. He could arrow it in like a fizzed cross or loop it high. A variety of deliveries designed to bully the ball into the goal. Of Stoke’s first 13 goals in the Premier League, seven were assisted by Delap, showing just how effective he was.

A crowded box from a throw-in was part and parcel of a Stoke match.

Perhaps the cult hero in this story is Stoke as a club in their early Premier League years, but this era is synonymous with Delap’s throw-ins and the carnage they caused. Not the most talented player, but he found a way to make himself pivotal in a Premier League side and will be remembered for a very long time as a result. Delap had enjoyed previous Premier League spells at Derby County, Southampton and Sunderland but none of these sides tapped into the throwing ability of the man capped 11 times by Ireland, who was a successful javelin thrower in his youth. However, Southampton fans will remember with fondness his incredible bicycle kick goal in a 1-0 win over Tottenham in 2004, with Delap only being replaced as the Saints’ record signing in 2012 despite Delap signing in 2001.

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Premier League Cult Heroes: Peter Crouch

Not many players can play for two rival teams and come away with not just respect but affection from both sets of supporters. However, in playing for both Southampton and Portsmouth Peter Crouch did just this. The 6 foot 7 striker in fact gained the appreciation of a whole host of Premier League clubs, also plying his trade for Aston Villa, Liverpool, Tottenham, Stoke and, for a brief spell, Burnley in England’s top flight.

Crouch’s frame was misleading and he was “good feet for a big man” personified with his technical ability far greater than he was given credit for due to his gangly frame. He scored 108 Premier League goals and got 58 assists in 468 appearances. He holds the record for the most headed goals in Premier League history and was the Champions League top scorer in Liverpool’s run to the final in the 2006/07 season. The big man can also boast an impressive international goal tally, scoring 22 times in 42 appearances for England, a rate of better than a goal every other game.

Crouch was a hit with football fans due to his down to earth nature and he always had a good rapport with both his club’s fans and rival fans. His infamous robot celebration epitomised this and his response of “a virgin” when asked what he’d be if he wasn’t a footballer in an interview has gone down in football folklore.

He eventually retired in 2019 after a six month spell at Burnley where he failed to feature much and didn’t manage to find the net. He was 38 at the time and has since said he felt that he could have kept going but was wary of becoming a ‘plan B’ for teams who would throw him on to win headers when chasing a game. His ability was far too great to resort to being simply a player that the ball gets lumped up to. The cruel irony of this is that for much of his career he was a ‘plan B’ with Liverpool and England never really trusting him to be their main striker even when he was scoring for fun in the peak of his career. His frame may have hindered his perception by many fans, and having a 6 foot 7 striker may appear unglamorous, but his goals and contribution to his numerous clubs, as well as never taking himself too seriously, earned him affection from English football fans.

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Premier League Cult Heroes: Kevin Nolan

Kevin Nolan was perhaps the budget Frank Lampard for a number of years in the Premier League. Not the most technically gifted but Nolan developed a knack of arriving late into the box and getting himself a goal.

Nolan was a key part of Sam Allardyce’s Bolton side which always gives Premier League fans a feeling of nostalgia. The team that thrived off a battle with anyone with sprinklings of genuine top quality throughout the side, as shown by the side’s 2-2 draw away at German champions Bayern Munich in the UEFA Cup in the 2006/07 season. Nolan became synonymous with Allardyce and was also a key component of Allardyce’s Bolton side, before eventually reuniting with Big Sam at West Ham. However, on the pitch he is perhaps best known for his partnership with Andy Carroll. At both Newcastle and West Ham the Nolan and Carroll double act linked up successfully on numerous occasions with Nolan often the beneficiary of the big man’s knock downs.

Kevin Nolan dropped down to the Championship twice in his career, first after being relegated with Newcastle in 2009 and secondly after joining West Ham shortly after they dropped down to the Championship in 2011. However, he helped his side to an instant return to the Premier League on both occasions. The unconventional, workmanlike attacking midfielder would finish his Premier League career in 2015 having amassed 401 league appearances. He scored 69 goals in that time and registered 26 assists and hit double figures twice in the Premier League. From a decade at Bolton to spells with Newcastle and West Ham, Nolan always knew where the net was but never shirked the physical side of the game; an endearing quality to English football fans.

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Premier League Cult Heroes: Jimmy Bullard

Jimmy Bullard can now be found trying his hand at presenting on cult football TV show Soccer AM on a Saturday morning. However, he was a far better player than his ‘cheeky chappy’ persona would infer.

He also wasn’t averse to hard work and made it to the Premier League the hard way after starting his career in non-league football before being signed by West Ham for £30,000 in 1999. He had by no means made it at the top however and was released after a season having not managed a single appearance. A move to Peterborough followed and after two years, in 2003, he was signed by Wigan Athletic. It was here that Bullard, and the club, would get their first taste of the Premier League with Bullard’s 10 goals from central midfield helping the Latics to secure promotion ready for the 2005/06 season.

Once Bullard had made it to the Premier League he quickly became something of a cult hero. He was always seen having a laugh and joke and with a smile on his face as he played, never taking himself too seriously just like now in his TV role.

There are two incidents for which Bullard is perhaps best known. First for an incident with notorious Everton hard-man Duncan Ferguson, where after Ferguson had punched a Wigan defender and got a red card Bullard, who recently admitted that he went over because he ‘loves the drama’, can then be seen looking up at ‘Big Dunc’ and laughing before jokingly saying “I’ll see you in the tunnel”. He would regret this, with the Scottish striker waiting in the tunnel for Bullard for the remaining 15 minutes of the game.

The other incident is a goal celebration that has gone down in Premier League folklore. In the 2008/09 season Hull found themselves 4-0 down at half time away at Manchester City. To the shock of the the players and fans alike, Hull manager Phil Brown didn’t let his players go back to the dressing room but instead gave them a dressing down on the pitch. A decision which he was widely criticised for. Fast forward a season and Hull are 1-0 down at Manchester City. Bullard converts a late penalty to equalise and what followed was a moment that secured his Premier League cult hero status. Bullard stood in the middle of his teammates who sat circled around him and pretended to give them a talking to, as Phil Brown had the season before. It could have been taken badly by Brown but after the game he said that “It was a fantastic celebration. Great comedy is all about timing”.

As well as Wigan and Hull, Bullard played for a strong Fulham side in the Premier League and earned himself an England call-up, although he never made it onto the pitch. His debut Premier League season with Wigan included a trip to Wembley in the League Cup final but the Latics were well beaten, losing 4-0 to Manchester United. A technically gifted player with an eye for a long range goal, Bullard ended his Premier League career with 15 goals and 11 assists. Despite only playing 90 Premier League games, Bullard more than left his mark.

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Premier League Cult Heroes: Nobby Solano

The Peruvian dead ball specialist who retired to pursue a career in music.

Nolberto Solano, or ‘Nobby’ as he was affectionately known, was the first Peruvian to play in the Premier League and the FA Cup final, featuring in Newcastle’s 2-0 defeat to Manchester United in 1999. A legend in his homeland, with 95 caps and 20 goals for his country, Solano’s wedding was even televised on Peruvian TV.

He joined Newcastle from Boca Juniors in 1998 before spending a year at Aston Villa from 2004-05 and then returning to Newcastle for a second spell. He also played for West Ham in the Premier League, as well as Leicester, Hull and Hartlepool in English football. He is best remembered for his time at Newcastle however, and refers to himself as an ‘adopted Geordie’. So much so in fact, that his salsa band, in which he plays the trumpet, are named ‘The Geordie Latinos’.

Solano was a right midfielder with a cultured right foot. This was perhaps highlighted most by his delicate outside-of-the-foot effort from 18 yards against Everton shown below. In his solitary season at Aston Villa he finished their top scorer, with eight league goals, and player of the season which peaked the interest of a number of sides; none more so than Liverpool. He opted to return to Tyneside, however. His crossing ability was remarkably consistent and none other than Alan Shearer was grateful for the service, with Solano claiming the Premier League record goalscorer was a huge factor in him rejoining the Magpies for a second spell. He finished his Premier League career with 62 assists and 49 goals; 111 goal contributions in his 302 appearances. Not bad for a trumpet player from Peru.

https://www.premierleague.com/video/single/1871656?TAG=Goal%20of%20the%20Day

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Premier League Cult Heroes: Kevin Phillips

The man who aged like a fine wine.

From Premier League golden boot winner at Sunderland to golden oldie at Crystal Palace Phillips scored a lot of goals for a lot of clubs. In fact, he played for ten clubs in total, five of which were in the Premier League. His first spell in the Premier League came in the 1999/2000 season after winning promotion with Sunderland. In his first season in the top flight he scored a remarkable 30 league goals in 36 games and won not only the Premier League Golden Boot but also the European Golden Shoe. He remains the last English player to achieve this feat to this day.

Phillips with his Premier League Golden boot.

Following Sunderland’s relegation from the Premier League in 2003, Phillips signed for Southampton where he managed double figures in both his seasons before moving to Aston Villa in 2006. However, this was to be the last time Phillips would reach double figures in the Premier League. He would make the short move directly to city rivals Birmingham and then left the top tier in 2011. He scored six goals in 14 Championship games to help get Crystal Palace promoted via the play-offs to get one last crack at the Premier League aged 39. The most vital of these being the extra-time penalty he netted in the final itself. He didn’t manage to get himself one last Premier League goal in the 24th year of his career, something that surely he can not be begrudged for.

In total Phillips managed 92 goals in 263 Premier League games. He was relatively late to arrive in the Premier League, making his debut aged 26 which may be why he was so keen to squeeze out every once of his career, finally retiring aged 41 after a brief spell with Leicester in the Championship. He always managed to score goals and the sheer longevity of his career help to make him a Premier League cult hero. He also managed eight England appearances although he didn’t manage to score for his country.

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Premier League Cult Heroes: Morten Gamst Pederson

The Norwegian with a left foot so sweet he would often shoot from corners.

Premier League fullbacks knew they were in for a tough afternoon when they saw the highlighted hair of Morten Gamst Pederson lining up on the left of the Blackburn midfield. A left foot as cultured as it was powerful, Pederson really could strike a ball and for a period was one of the best players outside the traditional top clubs.

He was linked with numerous clubs during his time in the Premier League, but Chelsea in particular were rumoured to be keen on Pederson’s signature on more than one occasion. However, the Norwegian opted to stay at Blackburn for nine years, thus securing himself legend status at the club. His career highlight was undoubtedly scoring a brace at Old Trafford to secure a 2-1 victory for Blackburn over United in September 2005.

Interestingly, Pederson was naturally right-footed as a child but his father, who was a professional footballer in his homeland, encouraged Pederson to use his left foot all the time as a child. His reasoning was that as there were less left-sided players he would have more chance of forging a career for himself if he could play on the left. As such, Pederson’s left foot became his dominant foot and now the first thought when discussing the ex-Blackburn winger is his precise left foot. Nothing illustrated this more than his 40 yard free kick goal against Wigan in 2010.

Pederson ended his Blackburn career in 2013 with 34 goals and 39 assists in his 260 top flight appearances, with the last season spent in the Championship. He also accumulated an impressive 84 caps for Norway, scoring 17 times. A true Premier League cult hero, who epitomised wing-play in the 2000’s. He was associated with a number of controversial moments in his spell in the Premier League, including being punched by Joey Barton in a game against Newcastle and gauged in the eye by current Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta, who reacted angrily to a Pederson tackle on him. His love for the game was always clear to see and this is further evidenced by the fact that he recently dropped down to Norway’s third division to continue playing at the age of 39, where he is no doubt still putting his left foot to good use.

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Premier League Cult Heroes: Yakubu

Feed the Yak and he will score.

That chant would that would follow Yakubu around the Premier League en route to securing Premier League cult hero status via Portsmouth, Middlesbrough, Everton and Blackburn. The Nigerian poacher had real purple patches but consistently terrified Premier League defences in his pomp. He looked set to help take Moyes’ ever-improving Everton side to the next level when he joined in 2007. The Nigerian refused the number 9 shirt and opted for the number 22, a signal of his goal target for the season. He finished one goal shy of this in all competitions, despite spending much of January in Ghana for the African Cup of Nations. However, Yakubu’s Everton career was all too soon to be hampered by an Achilles injury which saw him face spells on the sidelines.

With 95 Premier League goals ‘The Yak’ is the third highest scoring African in Premier League history. Coincidentally, he is also Nigeria’s third highest international goalscorer with 21 goals.

As alluded to, his goals did seem to come in spells but the centre forward was as strong as an ox and hit double figures in seven of his twelve Premier League seasons. Interestingly, his most prolific Premier League season was his last, scoring 17 in 30 league games for Blackburn Rovers. However, this was not enough to save Blackburn from relegation and Yakubu subsequently went to China, far from thrilled at the prospect of another spell in the Championship, having helped get Portsmouth promoted in 2004 as well as a spell on loan at Leicester in the 2010/11 season.

Having scored over 100 goals in England, Yakubu is remembered fondly by English football fans and reminds them of an era of a traditional number 9, in style if not by number. His formidable partnership with Kevin Lua-Lua at Portsmouth, his league and UEFA cup exploits with Middlesbrough, leading the line for Moyes’ Everton and his last hurrah season at Blackburn cement the Yak’s status as a Premier League cult hero. Often having not played for a traditional top side aids players in being remembered fondly by fans of the Premier League and Yakubu’s links with a number of clubs certainly helped his cause. A very memorable career, if not successful in the traditional sense of winner’s medals and accolades.

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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 Zirkzee: 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 Zirkzee.

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.

Zirkzee 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 Zirkzee was introduced in the 83rd minute, he scored in the 85th. Once again it had taken Zirkzee just two minutes to find the net. As he had done three days earlier, Gnabry then secured the win minutes later but it was Zirkzee who had saved Bayern. Just 18 at the time, Zirkzee was deciding games for the biggest club in Germany before he had even scored for the reserve side.

Zirkzee (right) netting against Wolfsburg.

Oddly, Zirkzee 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, Zirkzee 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 Zirkzee 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 Zirkzee getting an opportunity in the revised World Cup style format of the competition to be played out in August. As it is Zirkzee 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 Zirkzee 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, Zirkzee 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 Zirkzee’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.