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.

André 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 André 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. 

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Clarence Seedorf - Why Milan should choose to stick with the Dutchman for next season

The final round of Serie A matches take place this weekend, drawing to a close another dramatic season on the peninsula. Milan are perhaps under more scrutiny than most this Sunday, many believe a decision on the future of current manager Clarence Seedorf is just around the corner. In short will they stick, and keep the Dutchman for next season or indeed twist, and go in search of a coach most likely with a more decorated history in football management.

Taarabt has been a success since his arrival in Lombardy
Seedorf has done no harm to his chances of staying on in his role at the San Siro. In his 18 league matches in charge since taking over, the 38-year-old has won ten of them, returning 32 points at a win rate of 55%. That not only out does his predecessor, Massimiliano Allegri, who boasted a figure of 51% but it also stands
not too far off Ancelotti’s figure of 56.5%, Milan’s most successful manager of the 21st century.

If Seedorf, who made 300 appearances for the Rossoneri, wins his final game of the season this Sunday against lowly Sassuolo and Torino and Parma, who sit 6th and 7th respectively, slip up in their matches, then he will have guided Milan to a place in Europe for next season. Not bad considering he took over the club when they were sat in 11th position in the table and confidence was at an all-time low. 

It would be most harsh of club owner and media mogul Silvio Berlusconi if he were to get rid of Seedorf after Sunday’s match, regardless of the result. The Dutch manager has only had a few months and half a transfer window to impress his vision and ideas upon the squad. A team that is arguably the worst assembled side in Milan’s recent history.

Seedorf deserves an entire summer to go out and purchase his own targets, players that he think will add quality to this diminishing side and can help take the club back to the upper echelons of Italian football. The only player Seedorf was able to get in January in the time he was given was Adel Taarabt, who he signed on loan from QPR for the rest of the season. Taarabt has arguably turned out to be Milan’s signing of the season. In the 11 starts he has made for the club since he has arrived he has scored four goals and recorded an average rating of 7.44 by WhoScored, the best rating out of any player in the Milan side. This is certainly reason to give Seedorf a proper transfer budget for the summer and then see what he can achieve with it. 

What is so remarkable is that Seedorf is only the second black manager to take charge of a Serie A side, the first was Jarbas Faustinho who managed Napoli from 1994-95. At a time where racism is still very present in football around the world this appointment is exactly what Serie A needs right now. Only last week a banana was thrown at Kevin Constant the Milan footballer in their game against Atalanta, not to mention the incident surrounding Barcelona’s Dani Alves. Milan are a very high profile club and it is fantastic to see that they made the decision to take on Seedorf in January, sticking with him in the long term can only serve to benefit Serie A and the racism that continues to surround this league.

Rumours have been rife this week that Milan are keen on former manager and club legend Carlo Ancelotti, as well as fellow Italian and unemployed Luciano Spalletti, as successors to Seedorf for next season. Berlusconi has given mixed reactions of late with his views of the situation. He refused to comment upon the position a few days ago only to tell Radio 24 today that “Signing Seedorf in January was not a mistake”. Hopefully this is not the dreaded backing every manager in football wishes they don’t hear. It usually results with them losing their job a week later.

Not only is Seedorf a globally recognised footballer but he is a clever man and no doubt tactician, notably the Dutchman is fluent in five languages. Milan are not a club with a history of short term sackings, they have only had four managers since 2001. Indeed Ancelotti was given eight years at the San Siro, something quite unheard of in Serie A where managers come and go on a regular basis.

Seedorf should be the man Milan stick with for now. He is contracted till June 2016 and there is much promise from what we have seen in the second half of this season that would suggest the next campaign can be a more successful one.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

The Liverpool Defence

Liverpool have been absolutely outstanding this season, of that there can be no doubt. All one has to do is compare this season’s league table to that of last season and the facts speak for themselves. With only one game left of the season, kicking off at three this afternoon, Liverpool have managed nine more victories than the previous year. They have scored 28 more goals, and counting, they boast 20 more points than they achieved last campaign and not to mention the fact that they have risen from seventh in the table to a minimum finish of second. It all makes for very impressive reading and hats off to Rodgers for being the catalyst behind this successful season.

But there is still something amiss, something that could have handed Liverpool the title this season with considerable ease if it had been at any sort of acceptable standard. The defence.  Whilst the side this season may have out played many other Premier League teams they have still managed to leak goals, in fact nine more than when they finished seventh last season! How is that even possible I hear you ask? Well I think it needs closer attention and hopefully we can come to the bottom of what the issues have been with Liverpool’s back four this season.

The Problems:

Three or Four at the Back?

If there should be any criticism directed at Brendan Rodgers for his management this season then it should probably be as a result of his indecisiveness and decision making surrounding his defence. Liverpool started with four at the back, they then changed to three for a short period of time, before finally giving up on three and changing back to four. In September, Rodgers even decided to field four centre backs against Southampton with Sakho on the left and Toure on the right. Needless to say they lost the game 1-0. Next season Rodgers should decide on his best defenders and he should look to consistently play those players as much as possible. A fixed defence is a solid defence, whether it consists of three, four or five.

Which Formation?

Since Rodgers doesn’t know what number is best to play at the back, he also doesn’t know what formation is the best one to play with. I don’t have the exact numbers but I would be surprised if there has been another team in the Premier League this season who have changed their formation more times than Liverpool. On the first day of the season against Stoke, Liverpool came out in a 4-2-3-1 which has then gone on to a 3-5-2, 3-4-1-2, 3-5-2 again, 4-3-3, 4-4-2 back to 4-2-3-1 and then finally settling on a 4-3-3 for the last few months of the season. The changes are just about understandable when we consider that Liverpool started without Suarez for the first few games of the season before losing Sturridge to injury for some time half way through the campaign. However, the constant changes has evidently had an effect on the defence which has consequently had to chop and change sometimes on a weekly basis during 2013-14. If Liverpool want to have similar sort of successes next year then a good consistent formation needs to be decided upon.

The Fullbacks

After this season Liverpool have only one recognised left back in their squad, Jose Enrique, (Aly Cissokho will almost certainly be returning to Valencia come June). The Spaniard has only started six games this season so clearly he is not in Rodgers’ plans. It has meant that when Liverpool have played four at the back this season they have had use right footed players like Flanagan and Johnson who we know are more natural on the right hand side of the pitch. Even centre backs Agger and Sakho have had to fill in on the left at some point this year. Liverpool need to secure a first choice left back in the transfer market this summer and also decide which right sided defenders they want to keep in their squad. They are slightly spoiled for choice in that respect with Johnson, Flanagan, Kelly and Wisdom all natural right backs. There is no doubt that Rodgers has realised by now that it makes no sense to have one left back in a squad and four for the right. Something has to be done over the coming months.

Fixed Back Four

Rodgers has not made his mind up who his best four defenders are in the squad. Especially in relation to the centre back position. Martin Skrtel has been a key fixture in Liverpool’s defence this season with 35 starts but apart from the Slovakian there has been little consistency. Sakho has 17 starts whilst Agger and Toure have 15 apiece and this constant chopping and changing of the centre backs would certainly have had no positive effect on Skrtel’s performances who hasn’t been able to create any solid partnership at the back. Liverpool paid £15 million for Sakho last summer and yet it seems that Rodgers has not had the faith to consistently play the Frenchman in defence. In fact Rodgers has said this season that he wasn’t expecting Sakho to play first team football this season but that he would be happy if he were to challenge for a place. This is utterly baffling for me when you consider that Sakho is now 24, he has already had at least three seasons at PSG as a first choice centre back and what is more, he now starts for the French national team. As a manager if you pay £15 million on a proven player, Sakho is proven, you must be committed to play him.

What To Do:

One of Kelly or Wisdom will probably have to leave in the summer. Kelly did very well when he played for the first team a couple of years ago but has struggled since recovering from his injury. Wisdom has been on loan at Derby this season and could well go on a permanent move to the Rams if they get promoted via the play-offs.

Coates – not good enough, has to go.

Daniel Agger – Rodgers doesn’t seem to have faith in him and Agger won’t enjoy another season around the substitutes’ bench. I can see him moving on this summer.

Kolo Toure will be kept as he can provide good cover for a small squad that will have to cope with the demands of Champions League football next season.

Jose Enrique has got to be sold, very very poor left back.  

If Liverpool do anything this summer then it has to be going into the market and buying a first class left back and centre back. I would love to see them go in for Steven Caulker or Curtis Davies who have both had fantastic seasons in my opinion. Especially Caulker who surely will leave Cardiff now that they have been relegated.

An exciting change, if implemented properly, would be to see Liverpool have a proper go at the 3-5-2. It is such a rare formation to see in the Premier League but you only have to look at the kind of success that Juventus have had in Serie A with it and you wonder whether it could work with Liverpool.

Glen Johnson has shown that he has definite gaps in his defensive abilities and would jump at the chance to play in a more attacking wing back role. Rodgers can’t make his mind up about which centre backs to play so by using three that conundrum is thrown right out of the window. Needless to say, three centre backs could also be the answer to Liverpool’s poor defensive record.

Whatever Liverpool decide to do, I will eagerly be anticipating Liverpool’s activity in the transfer market this summer. 

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

How Rodgers can learn from Mourinho – ‘The Master’

It was billed as the title decider of the season: Liverpool vs Chelsea; Rodgers vs Mourinho; ‘The Master’ vs ‘The Student’. But when the full time whistle blew at Anfield on Sunday afternoon, the 2-0 win that Chelsea departed with certainly proved that ‘The Student’ still had much to learn.

Chelsea began the game with what was arguably a second string side, but a one full of veterans nonetheless as Lampard, Cole, Mikel and Ivanovic all started. Liverpool on the other hand, were without Jordan Henderson who has had an exceptional season, whilst star striker Daniel Sturridge was only fit enough for the bench.

Ba capitalizes on Gerrard's first half error to put Chelsea in front 

If there had been murmurings about Chelsea’s starting XI before the match, there were certainly none by the end. They were under strict instructions from Mourinho to kill the game and make sure that they frustrated the opposition from start to finish, and boy did it work.

Such tactics are no secret, and neither are Chelsea the only team to do it: just look at Real Madrid’s victory over Bayern Munich in their match last week. A performance I’m sure Mourinho himself would have been proud of.

Liverpool struggled throughout when trying to breakdown the Chelsea back four, which sometimes turned to six when Salah and Schurrle hung back. By the 70 minute mark it was obvious that Liverpool had run out of ideas and that Plan A was not working.

The Reds have been a free scoring side all season, regularly notching up three or four goals in a fixture, but suddenly when faced with a well-drilled defence with the sole objective of shutting them out for 90 minutes, they became unstuck.

The result raised questions about Rodgers’ tactics and possibly even proved that Liverpool are somewhat of a one dimensional team. We know that Rodgers used to be one of Mourinho’s protégées when the Portuguese manager was in his first spell at Stamford Bridge, and yet it is apparent that there is still room for improvement for the Liverpool boss.

Had Liverpool set out in the same way that Chelsea did on Sunday, aiming first and foremost not to concede, then Liverpool could well have come away from Anfield with a 0-0 scoreline and one point in the bag.

Not for the first time has Mourinho out thought his opposite man

The truth is that Liverpool only needed a draw from this game. The point would have meant that, with two games left of the season, they would still have had a cushion between Manchester City and the Premier League title would still have been theirs to lose. I think any Liverpudlian at the stadium would have been happy to see their side drag the game out with time wasting from the first minute and ‘park the bus’. Or two, as Rodgers suggested in his post-match comments.

A win is a win, whether it be stylish and clinical or downright ugly. Liverpool and Rodgers must learn the art of winning ugly; it is something Mourinho is an expert in. 

Saturday, 26 April 2014

What went wrong for Moyes and United?

In less than a year in charge of Manchester United, manager David Moyes’ tenure has come to an end after he was sacked by the club’s hierarchy early on Tuesday morning. The decision was taken after an embarrassing result against none other than Moyes’ former club, Everton, as United went down 2-0 last Sunday in a derisory manner. It was a performance that we have come to see all too often this season and yet I am still of the opinion that the decision to sack Moyes was wrong. Here’s why.

Yes it has been an awful season, yes the fans have been against Moyes and yes, all confidence in him went out the window a long time ago. It paints a sorry picture when looking through some of the stats from this season. This is the first time Liverpool, Manchester City and Everton have all done the double on United during a season. United have failed to qualify for the Champions League for the first time in 19 years and therefore have finished outside of the top 4 for the first time in that same period. It is the lowest points tally United have ever accumulated during the Premier League era and to top things off they have played there way to their worst home record in the league for a decade.

BUT, and I do use a big but here. Was he really given a chance? There is no doubt that the squad is nowhere near the standards of a Manchester United team that I have come to know of during my lifetime. How SAF managed to win the league with this side last season is beyond me and hats off to him. However, Moyes was left to pick up the pieces and it seems he was given an impossible task. Gary Lineker said this week he felt that the manager to successfully take up the reins of United was not going to be the one after Ferguson but the one after the one after Ferguson. He has a fair point.

If we breakdown a few key areas from the season we might be able to throw some light upon this very dark situation United have found themselves in.


Marouane Fellaini has had an absolute shocker of a season, of that there is no doubt. I was a big admirer of Fellaini from his Everton days. I thought he was a fantastic footballer and he did the job Moyes asked of him. He also always seemed to turn up for the big games at Everton, even when asked to lead the line of a side with no natural striker. How did it all go so wrong? Even Roberto Martinez admitted to celebrating the day (July 31st) Fellaini’s £23.5 million release clause expired. Why then United waited a month later to get the transfer through is beyond me. I can’t quite determine exactly what hasn’t clicked for Fellaini this season but I for one would not be surprised if he flourished in Belgium’s midfield in Brazil this summer. Lest we forget, if United had failed in their courting of Fellaini last summer he could well have ended up at Chelsea.
In hindsight, there is a huge case for saying why didn’t Moyes, when waltzing back to Everton to partake in some summer shopping pay a similar figure, if not less, for young Ross Barkley. Young, English, dynamic, two-footed, Ross Barkley. Who of course Moyes knew all about seeing as he had been the player’s manager since the boy joined the Toffees.

All blame cannot lie with Fellaini though, however much of a flop he has turned out to be. United failed spectacularly from start to finish in the transfer market last summer as they went on a rampage around Europe being linked with star players from here there and everywhere. Ander Herrera of Bilbao, Barca’s Cesc Fabregas, now Bayern midfielder Thiago and even Cristiano Ronaldo all managed to wangle their way onto a United shortlist and they failed to get a signature of all four. If they are going to have any sort of success next season then the summer targets need to be planned and well thought out very soon. No Champions League place could prove to be a real buffer for them though.

Current Players:

Fingers need to be pointed at some players from this season who have been downright awful and have let Moyes down badly.

There have been cracks beginning to appear in Rio Ferdinand’s waning United career. This season just about split the wall in half. Ferdinand has been a shadow of his former self this year appearing just 11 times, less than half the appearances he made under SAF last season. He has been weak, unreliable and did no favours to ensure Moyes’ first season at the club would go smoothly.    

Tom Cleverley has had a season to forget and he may well not be given another chance. It’s almost certain that he will not be on the plane to Brazil this summer and he may well even find himself on the transfer list when he returns to Carrington for preseason. His lack of presence in the midfield has been obvious, there has been little creativity for the strikers and his general input both defensively and offensively has been minimum.
When the club captain shows disinterest in where the side is heading then what chance does the manager have? Vidic agreed to join Inter a couple of months ago and it was hardly surprising but nevertheless very unprofessional from a player who was adored by the United faithful. He’s had a poor season, he evidently became disillusioned with life in Manchester and it’s no surprise that the Serbian will be moving on this summer.

I want to make it clear that I’m still adamant that Moyes was the right choice of manager for United.  I think he has been dismissed too early and has not been able to fully prove himself to the board and the fans. He needed another transfer window to further add to the squad and mould it into a side he could work with. You gain nothing from sacking a coach after a year and more importantly United are not a club that should take those sort of decisions. Moyes’ win rate was 8% higher than Ferguson’s was after their first 51 games in charge and yet the difference in treatment the two received is disparate.

It was crazy to hand Moyes a 6 year contract when he first arrived at the club last year. What is wrong with giving a manager a 2 year contract and then re-evaluating in the last 3 months of the deal? It makes sense and it also lets the manager know that they can’t relax knowing that whatever happens they will end up with a fat paycheque.  

I am by no means saying Moyes was blameless. He made his mistakes. You also have to accept that mistakes will be made but the key is to see if he can learn from them and improve as a manger as a result.  I don’t think he froze as such but he certainly seemed to become overawed when the going got tough. It certainly didn’t make things easier when there was no one on hand like Phelan or Meulensteen to help him through those tough moments. A big mistake was letting go those key members of staff that were willing to stay on after the Ferguson era.

Ryan Giggs has been chosen to take charge for the remaining 4 games of the season and I’m sure he will do a fine job. Whether he will be a permanent choice is unlikely. In fact the only candidate that remains in the picture is Van Gaal who seems nailed on for the post when he returns home from the World Cup with Holland after Klopp, Ancelotti and Mourinho have all somewhat unsurprisingly distanced themselves from the job.

With regards to Moyes’ future I don’t think he will be out the game for long and he should get right back on the horse this summer. He could well find himself in charge of Aston Villa or Newcastle United come July and all will be forgotten. Well, nearly.