Friday, 6 June 2014

Arsenal must make three key signings ahead of 2014/15 season

Arsenal were left short of options after Ramsey's injury last season
Arsenal were top of the Premier League from September through to January. They held pole position at Christmas and it looked as if Arsene Wenger would put an end to a title-winning drought that dates back to 2004.

Then the wheels came off. Injuries began to hinder the squad which struggled to keep pace with the demanding rigours of two cup runs and a gruelling domestic campaign.

Theo Walcott could only muster nine league starts all season due to injury, whilst the same misfortune sadly curtailed a near flawless season for Aaron Ramsey. The fact of the matter was that these two players could not be replaced. Arsenal proved last season that they do not yet have a squad that can challenge for the league and the big competitions over the course of a 10 month season.

When Jack Wilshere was also side-lined for an extended period of time, towards the latter part of the season, it was blaringly obvious that there was a huge hole in the centre of midfield. Mikel Arteta and Tomas Rosicky are both good players, but the latter is getting on and the former arguably no longer deserves a starting place in a side that wants to win the Premier League.

Wenger, we have been told, will have the money to spend this summer. Just as he had the money to spend last summer and yet waited until the very end of August to land his marquee signing.

If Arsenal truly want to capitalise upon a promising first half of last season then three key signings need to be made over the summer. This time, preferably by July, so that the new signings can settle in before the campaign starts.

Who should those new signings be you wonder? Here are three that would do nicely indeed:

Serge Aurier – He’s young and he speaks French. What’s not to like. Aurier made 34 league appearances for Toulouse last season, a stalwart in the side who popped up with six goals and 6 assists from right back. A vast gap is being left by the outgoing Bacary Sagna and that hole needs to be filled fast. Carl Jenkinson has yet to prove himself worthy of a starting position in the Arsenal XI.

Is a deal already in place for Aurier?
Aurier is a top quality defender who could slip into the Arsenal back four with ease. Proven by the fact that he made more assists, keypasses, created chances, tackles and interceptions than Sagna did all of last
season. In a side that only finished 9th in Ligue 1.

The Ivorian is heading off to the World Cup this summer and it’s a shame Arsenal did not try to get a deal done for him sooner. Player valuations go through extreme levels of inflation during international tournaments and Arsenal won’t want to cough up more than is necessary.

Fredy Guarin – Guarin will also be featuring at the World Cup this summer, with South American hopefuls Colombia. The midfielder has just completed his second season in Italy with Inter and it is somewhat surprising that his profile continues to slip under the radar of many European clubs.

Guarin is 27 now and so arguably will be entering the best years of his career soon and how Arsenal would love it if those years were with them. He netted himself four goals last season and picked up six assists in what was a very disappointing campaign for the Nerazzurri. Guarin could be facing a third successive season of no Champions League football if he doesn’t force himself a move this summer, something of course Arsenal can offer him.

Guarin: The missing piece to Arsenal's jigsaw

The midfielder has a superb engine, he just runs and runs and runs. He is also incredibly adept going forward, registering the second highest amount of shots per game out of any Inter player last season. And when I say shots, I mean shots. This guy can really hit the ball.

Karim Benzema – The Frenchman has been heavily linked with Arsenal for two seasons now and this summer might just be the one when finally a deal gets done. For a striker who scores goals, 111 since being at Real Madrid, he suffers quite a lot of stick from the Madrid faithful. 

A move to Arsenal would be beneficial. Benzema likes the limelight and arguably he no longer gets that in Spain, pushed to one side by the newfound bromance between Ronaldo and Bale. At Arsenal Benzema would be the centre of attention, he would start games and he would be loved by the fans. 

Arsenal have the money for someone as good as Benzema, they just need to spend it. This position is the most important for them next season and with the departure of Bendtner (at last!) they need plenty more options available up top. Plus, proper competition for Giroud, who at the moment is guaranteed a starting spot week in week out, is currently very thin on the ground.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Value World Cup Golden Boot contenders

Who can claim this coveted prize in Brazil?
Now that there are less than two weeks to go until the start of the World Cup in Brazil people have begun to voice their opinions on who they think will win the competition this year. But something that frequently gets overlooked is the man who finishes with the most amount of goals, the winner of the Golden Boot.

With the likes of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Cristiano Ronaldo verging on single figures in the betting markets, it's worth taking a look at some surprise packages taking part this summer.  

Here is a brief run-down of the last three World Cup top scorers:

2002 – Ronaldo (Brazil), Winners, 8 goals
             M Klose (Germany), Finalists, 5 goals

2006 – M Klose (Germany), 3rd Place Play-off, 5 goals

2010 – Four players finished on five goals:
            D Forlan (Uruguay), 3rd Place Play-off
            T Muller (Germany), 3rd Play Play-off 
            W Sneijder (Netherlands), Finalists
            D Villa (Spain), Winners                                                                                             

Important Factors:   

Strong Team - In order to have a chance of backing someone to win the Golden Boot you obviously have to be part of a good team. It sounds stupid to iterate this but make sure that your man has a decent chance of making it to the World Cup final, since the more games he plays during the tournament, the more chances he will have to score goals.

Striker – Again, it sounds silly to mention it but it needs telling. The last time the Golden Boot was won by a non-striker was in 1974, by Gregorz Lato, and even then he was a winger. Strikers consistently claim this prize because the tournament is short, they are given the most amount of chances to score and your lead striker will often play the most amount of minutes in the side. Don’t be tempted to pick a midfielder, even if he is priced up at 100/1.

Easy Group – A dud team in a group means a good chance at scoring lots of goals. Often the Golden Boot winner only needs to score at least four goals during the tournament to claim the coveted prize. You want your selection to have the chance to knock a couple past a poor team in the group stages to put your man well on his way.

Four value picks to top score at this World Cup:

Diego Costa (Spain) 28/1 – The Atletico Madrid striker has had a phenomenal season and has racked up 27 league goals in Spain, only one less than Lionel Messi. Hopefully Costa can recover from a hamstring injury (which forced him to come off early during the Champions League final) in time for Spain’s opening game of the World Cup. 

If fit, Costa has every chance of leading the Spanish line and with the likes of Iniesta, Fabregas, Silva and Mata working in behind him there will certainly be no shortage of provision. Spain could well go all the way to the final in Brazil and Costa will no doubt be hoping to impress in his first major international tournament.

Hulk (Brazil) 50/1 – Brazil are favourites to win the World Cup in their own country and it would be no surprise to see one of their players capturing the top scorer prize to boot. Forgive the pun. According to the bookies, both Neymar and Fred are more likely to score the goals for Brazil but I think they have got this wrong. 

Hulk has scored 17 goals in 23 starts for Zenit this season which is a fantastic return. What is more miraculous is that he was averaging nearly six shots a game in the Champions League, against some of the world’s best defenders. I would not be surprised to see Hulk taking Brazil to World Cup glory come July.

AndrĂ© Schurrle (Germany) 80/1 – The Germans score goals. You only have to look down the list at the last few international tournaments so see the likes of Muller and Klose knocking them in and I don’t think this year will be any different. Apart from maybe the goal scorer himself because I’m backing Chelsea striker AndrĂ© Schurrle. 

Schurrle scored eight goals for Chelsea in 15 starts last season but it’s when playing for Germany that he has pulled off some extremely impressive performances of late. He scored four goals in his country’s last two qualifying games, including a hat-trick against Sweden. The pacey forward fits in fantastically with the German system and he could be a real danger on the counter-attack in the latter parts of matches against tiring defenders in humid conditions. The only worry is he may not start every game but at 80/1 I am willing to take that risk.

Karim Benzema (France) 33/1 – France are a surprise team for me at this summer’s championships. Written off by many already the French are deemed to have no chance of advancing that far in Brazil. But in major finals anything can happen and what’s more they have a comparatively easier group than the other big teams. 

Step up Karim Benzema who on the back of an excellent season with Real Madrid will be hoping to lead the line for France this summer and score plenty of goals. A group match against Honduras is ideal for France to stamp down some authority and if Benzema has his shooting boots on then he could well bag himself a couple of goals. Sometimes all it takes is three or so goals to get you within reach of the Golden Boot.

I would recommend backing the above each-way and getting ¼ odds for a top 4 finish. 

Italian World Cup squad - sung to the National Anthem!

I know that England are in the same group as Italy for the World Cup this summer and you know what, I find this somewhat annoying.

How can I cheer on these boys in blue this summer?

I study Italian at university and I have a huge interest in Italian football, it makes sense to adopt Italy as my 'second team' for the World Cup. Not a back up, I don't need a back up since I'm not that kind of guy. But just for when England aren't playing I have Italy who I can cheer on in a light-hearted sort of way, kind of like Ireland in the 2002 World Cup.

However, it will be increasingly difficult to do that this summer when my own nation have been pitted against Italy right from the very off when the tournament gets under way in Brazil. The two teams will meet one another in their opening game of the World Cup.

Ideally England will top the group and Italy will come in second. Obviously after England win their encounter after a tight game. Ideally. But we shall see.

In the mean time here is a fantastic video starting to do the rounds on the internet of a group of Italian guys singing the names of the Italian squad to the tune of the National Anthem. Such a good effort!

Monday, 2 June 2014

Italy squad for 2014 World Cup

A geographical look at the birthplaces of the Italian national team selected by Cesare Prandelli yesterday.

All but two members of the team were born in Italy.

Saturday, 31 May 2014

Was Mauricio Pochettino right to join Tottenham?

On Tuesday evening Mauricio Pochettino was finally announced as the new manager of Tottenham Hotspur after weeks of topping the bookies charts as the favourite for the job. His only other serious competitor was Frank de Boer but in the end Daniel Levy and the Tottenham board have decided to take on former Southampton manager Pochettino, who has earned himself a 5 year contract at White Hart Lane.

The Argentinian will become Tottenham’s ninth manager in 13 years and he should be under no illusion of what is expected from him come the start of next season. Champions League qualification is a must.  Yet, sometimes not even that can do after former Spurs manager Harry Redknapp got the sack when he led Tottenham to 4th and their highest ever Premier League finish back in 2009.

Pochettino has lots to consider this summer
Football teams sack managers, it is something fans all over the world have come to terms with, increasingly more so in the last decade. Tottenham Hotspur and Daniel Levy are not the only ones. Since Daniel Levy took on the role of Executive Chairman in 2001 the following clubs have made managerial changes: Atletico Madrid – 12 times, Real Madrid – nine times, Barcelona – seven times, Inter Milan – 12 times and Bayern Munich – nine times. The difference between those teams and Tottenham in that period is that all the above have won the Champions League and/or a league title.

So the question is, has Pochettino made a good career choice by moving to Tottenham for next season?

‘Yes he has, well done Mauricio!’

Spending Power – Tottenham have more money than Southampton, this is obvious, after all the Saints were in League 1 only five years ago. This could well lead to Tottenham having a much better scouting system and network in place too. With money comes more influence and it would be fair to say that Tottenham certainly have the ability to attract a higher calibre of player than Southampton at the moment. It is reported that Pochettino will be given up to £50 million to spend this summer, much more money than he would have received at St Mary’s.

Trophies – Pochettino has yet to win anything since he became a manager, not an alarming fact when you consider he is only 42 and his first venture into football management with Espanyol was as recent as 2009. However, Tottenham offers him the chance to win trophies. Probably more of a chance than Southampton might in the near future. There is every chance that Tottenham could go all the way in the Europa League next season and lift the trophy. Yes! It does count!

Talented Squad – There are some big names in this Spurs side, names that seriously underperformed last season and with a little bit of help and encouragement could really set alight North London next season. Levy would most certainly have had Lamela and Soldado in the back of his mind when he hired Spanish speaking Pochettino to be the new boss. If Pochettino can mould this squad together and get them playing like a team rather than a bunch of expensively assembled individuals then the top-4 next season is realistic.

Youth Talent – Pochettino is a known admirer of giving youth players a chance in the first team. He did this at Southampton introducing the likes of James Ward-Prowse, Calum Chambers, Harrison Reed and Sam Gallagher. It is something his predecessor, Tim Sherwood, also encouraged during his brief time at White Hart Lane and it was a complete breath of fresh air to see a high profile team giving young English players like Harry Kane a run in the side. It won’t be as easy for Pochettino to do at a club like Tottenham, Sherwood wasn’t scared to do it, but look where he is now.

‘No Mauricio! What were you thinking?!’

Job Security – Pochettino should know what to expect walking into this job. Nine managers in 13 years tells you what kind of a man Levy is and he will demand results straight away. It seems to be quite a drop once you are ditched my Tottenham, Pochettino will hope that he does not follow the career paths of most of his predecessors. Indeed, Glenn Hoddle has hardly taken a shot at management since leaving Spurs, Jacques Santini only had one more job after Tottenham, Juande Ramos quite miraculously went on to Real Madrid but after a year found himself in Russia whilst Villas-Boas has gone from being the hottest property on the market to also ending up banished to Russia.
Is Baldini the man to blame for Spurs' troubles last season?

Franco Baldini – Baldini broke Tottenham’s transfer record three times last summer on Paulinho, Soldado and Lamela. The expensively assembled squad failed to impress under Villas-Boas and the Portuguese was given the boot. Baldini on the other hand is still at White Hart Lane. How happy Pochettino will be with a man working above him on transfers will remain to be seen. Arsene Wenger said last season “If a director of football buys the players, when they don’t work you are guilty for not using them well. When they work, he has bought well. I’m not against having people to help me buy and sell but I think the final decision has to always be with the manager.” The Arsenal manager is right and Pochettino’s job will hang on how well he and Baldini work together this summer and beyond.

Patience/Time - Champions League qualification is a must come the end of next season, especially if Levy is willing to give Pochettino £50 million to spend this summer. Obviously this would not have been the case if the Argentinian had stayed on the South Coast for another season. Another top half finish would have gone down fine with Saints fans come next May but the former Argentinian defender is obviously happy to feel a little bit of pressure.

Youth – I know I have already highlighted the Spurs academy as a bonus but arguably Southampton have the best youth structure in English football. Lest we forget, Spurs were able to spend above £100 million last summer as a result of a player from the Southampton academy. What’s more is that at Southampton Pochettino had free reign to play youth players, even better, he was encouraged to do so. It doesn’t look like the same will happen in his new role.

The Press – I jest here but Tottenham will require Pochettino to take all press conferences in English now he is their new manager. Could this be significant? Gone are the jokes, the possible mind games and the trusty translator. Pochettino will be laid bare for all to see come next season and it may affect his battle off the pitch as well as on it. Adios. 

Monday, 26 May 2014

Aaron Cresswell: The perfect replacement for Luke Shaw?

Luke Shaw’s stock has rocketed to astronomical levels after his second season in the Premier League with Southampton. The young English left back, recently called up to the England squad for the World Cup, has been turning heads all season long with a string of impressive displays. This has naturally led to the increasing likelihood that Southampton may well lose Shaw this summer as the likes of Manchester United and Chelsea loom.

Shaw looks set to leave St Mary's this summer

However, there is reason to suggest that Saints fans should not be too disheartened by the possible departure of their prized left back, since there is one player who could be the perfect replacement: Aaron Cresswell.

Cresswell has been plying his trade at Ipswich Town for the past three seasons and has racked up an impressive 132 league appearances during that time. Notably, last year he did not miss one league game for the Suffolk-based club.

Nor is Cresswell just a reliable left back who is satisfied with doing a solid job in the Ipswich defence. In fact, he has been their most important attacking source this season putting together some fantastic performances with decent numbers to show for it. The Liverpudlian has notched up 13 assists this year, the most out of any Town player and also the third most in the Championship. He has also created a whopping total of 68 chances, an incredible achievement for a defender. Not since Leighton Baines’ time at Wigan has a full back been so successful in the highest tier of the football league.

Using the Squawka ‘Comparison Matrix’ it is possible to produce some interesting comparisons between Luke Shaw and Cresswell.

Cresswell was named in the PFA Championship team of the year for 2013/14 and he also managed to come ninth in a list of the top ten Championship footballers for the season. A list that is voted for by the managers in the league. He was only one of two defenders to make it onto the list which is notoriously dominated by attackers.

His performances have not gone unnoticed either as numerous scouts have made the trip to Portman Road to check out the former Tranmere Rovers man in action. Southampton, Newcastle, West Brom, West Ham and Leicester have been keeping tabs on him to name but a few. Ipswich are not likely to stand in the defender’s way either if he makes it clear he wants to leave this summer even though he is contracted till 2017.

Mick McCarthy the Town manager said “Cressy might go because there will be people interested in him,” he also added that “I’m not one of those that’s going to say ‘He’s not going anywhere’ because that’s bullshit because he deserves to play there (the Premier League), and if it’s the right offer we’ll have to talk to him about it.”

Cresswell has been impressive for Ipswich

The slight glitch as far as Ipswich are concerned is that Cresswell’s former team, Tranmere, are entitled to make 20% of any profit that Town make from the £420,000 that they bought him for. Therefore, it would not be surprising to see Town act in a bullish manner when cutting a deal with future prospectors and a price tag between £4-5million seems to be quite likely. However, if you consider that Shaw may be sold for something in the region of £25 million then it could well be a good deal.

Ipswich have an excellent history in nurturing young talent before moving them on to the higher echelons of English football. Proven by Connor Wickham’s recent burst of form with Sunderland, and there is no doubt that Aaron Cresswell could replicate similar performances in the Premier League in years to come. 

Friday, 23 May 2014

Kasper Schmeichel set to agree new contract with Leicester

Danish international goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel will reportedly put pen to paper in the coming days on a new deal with Leicester City. BBC Sport announced on Monday that Schmeichel, who arrived at Leicester in 2011, was keen to sign a new deal and that he was excited about the upcoming season in the Premier League.

This contract extension will no doubt quell any more lingering rumours about a possible move by Arsenal for the 27 year old. The Gunners have been linked with Schmeichel for the last month since it was apparent that there Polish goalkeeper, Lukasz Fabianski, would not be signing a new deal at the club and that he would be let go this summer. Wenger and co obviously felt that Schmeichel, who was due to be out of contract this summer, would be an ideal back up to current No.1 keeper Wojciech Szczesny and would provide a bit of competition for the Polish international.

Leicester will be thrilled that Schmeichel has said that he wants to stay at the King Power stadium and no doubt this will provide a significant boost for the rest of the squad as they are about to embark upon their first season back in the top flight of English football since 2004.

Schmeichel has been a constant fixture in the side since his arrival in 2011 and played every single Championship game for the Foxes this season conceding 43 goals and keeping 18 clean sheets in the process. Including four consecutive shut outs in the last four games of the season.

The former Manchester City, Leeds United and Notts County keeper is believed to have agreed terms on a four year deal with the club that could earn him up to £40,000 a week. This seems somewhat unlikely though as Leicester have strived to implement a system where a salary cap of £30,000 a week in place. The deal, if true, would make the Danish keeper the highest paid player in the history of the football club.

The budgeting and salary cap may have to be thrown out the window though as the Thai owner of the club, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, has declared he wants to see the team finish in the top five within the next three years. Such lofty ambitions will certainly come at a cost and we will know doubt see Leicester players on wages of more than that salary cap over the next year or so.

Schmeichel has been named in the PFA Championship team of the year for the last two seasons and he will no doubt want to take this form into next season as the team will aim to keep the Foxes in the Premier League come next May.