Season So Far: The Premiership Review

Halfway through the season and the Premiership is well underway. So here is the review for all 20 teams and their hopes for the New Year:

MANCHESTER CITY

Despite being pegged back recently by a resurgent United, if you’d have offered Roberto Mancini joint top spot at Christmas, he’d have snapped your hand off. City have played some wonderful stuff, rifling in an astonishing 53 goals so far this season. Sergio Aguero has slotted into the system wonderfully and coupled with Nasri and David Silva’s sparkling form, they produce attacking football that is a breath of fresh air in comparison to the Mancini side we saw when he first took the job. Will be disappointed with the Champions League exit, but could be a blessing in disguise when looking to secure their first Premier League title. Keep up the good work Roberto.

Season So Far: 9.5/10

Inspiration: David Silva

Disappointment: Carlos Tevez

 

MANCHESTER UNITED

Started superbly with Wayne Rooney on fire, dropped off and have then come back with a bang in recent weeks. Oh, and they lost to Man City 6-1. Early season form saw goals galore but unfortunately for Sir Alex, injuries took their toll and United have struggled, especially at the back. Their Champions League exit came as a huge blow and I’m not sure United are going to enjoy playing on Channel 5 in the Europa League. However, a couple of big wins over Christmas have drawn the Red Devils level with City though Fergie may need to dip into the market for a midfielder. Interesting times ahead.

Season So Far: 6.5/10

Inspiration: Phil Jones

Disappointment: Ryan Giggs

 

TOTTENHAM

Harry’s boys are purring along nicely, they seem to have slipped under the radar more than usual this year, whilst the 3-0 win over Bolton was near to perfection in terms of footballing performances. There looks to be tremendous balance to the Spurs side this year, Lennon and Bale are always a threat down the wings, Van Der Vaart is a class act through the middle and Adebayor and Scott Parker have been superb additions to an already strong squad. Hang on to Luka Modric in January and the possibility of Spurs fighting a title race at the end of the season is a distinct possibility.

Season So Far: 9/10

Inspiration: Scott Parker

Disappointment: Tom Huddlestone

 

CHELSEA

It was always going to be difficult for Andre Villas Boas to stamp his authority on an aging squad at Stamford Bridge and that has turned out to be the case. Chelsea need a fair old swing in fortune if they’re going to have any chance at regaining the title and Villas Boas will have to hope his deranged chairman is a little less twitchy with his axe this summer. Staying in the Champions League was a close run thing and it could well be the old guard need one final hurrah to deliver Roman that much coveted European trophy. Expect a summer clearout.

Season So Far: 5/10

Inspiration: Daniel Sturridge

Disappointment: Andre Villas Boas

 

ARSENAL

A typical topsy turvy ride for Gunners fans and this time its worse than usual. Out of the title race earlier than normal, a tumultuous summer led to doubts over Arsene Wenger’s position for the first time ever after an 8-2 defeat to Manchester United. A recovery has been staged; mainly thanks to Robin Van Persie’s one man bandwagon and Arsenal still have Europe to threaten. A couple of frustrating results recently though have left the fans pondering the future and when that trophy is going to come. Because it sure as hell won’t be this year.

Season So Far: 6/10

Inspiration: Robin Van Persie

Disappointment: Per Mertesacker

 

LIVERPOOL

Most Liverpool fans expected King Kenny to turn it around this season, especially after the amount of money pouring out of his chequebook in the summer. It hasn’t gone quite according to plan though, not many of the big signings have gelled and Liverpool have struggled at Anfield, drawing against many sides they should comfortably beat. Luis Suarez is the ace card, but the racism case and now 9 match suspension leaves Liverpool well short in terms of quality. It’s time for the much maligned £35million striker to step up and prove his worth. Good luck Andy, you’re gonna need it.

Season So Far: 6/10

Inspiration: Jose Enrique

Disappointment: Andy Carroll

 

NEWCASTLE

Pardew’s quiet revolution became a rather nosy one as the media finally cottoned onto the fact that Newcastle were in the Top 4 in November. All credit must go to the manager, he appears to temporarily breached the gulf between supporters and owners despite the row over the Sports Direct Stadium. His side have over-achieved, especially given the size of his squad, though losing Steven Taylor for the rest of the year and 14-goal Demba Ba to the African Cup of Nations could prove a blow to their chances of European qualification. Prepare for a Tyneside explosion however, as they’re never far round the corner.

Season So Far: 8.5/10

Inspiration: Demba Ba

Disappointment: Gabriel Obertan

 

STOKE

This season was always going to be about the European adventure for Pulis and the boys and on that front, things have certainly gone well. Qualifying for the last 32 was rewarded with a trip to European Heavyweights Valencia, a clash that most Potters fans never even dreamed of a couple of years ago. Surprisingly, European hangovers haven’t taken too much effect, indeed Stoke occupy 8th position despite throwing away some crucial points. Clever signings in the summer, such as Crouch, Woodgate and Upson have seen the side climb higher than ever before. Unfashionable, but get the job done.

Season So Far: 8/10

Inspiration: Jonathan Walters

Disappointment: Wilson Palacios

 

WEST BROM

A tough start to the season had a few Baggies fans grumbling, but they did face some difficult fixtures and results have been better since. Roy Hodgson has shaken off his Liverpool nightmare and has inconspicuously gone about fashioning his side into a decent, hard-to-beat outfit. A Top 10 finish would represent significant progress and they are on track so far. Whilst it may difficult to sustain this assault, they have the money and the squad to secure their status amongst the regular Premiership mid-tablers and shed the yo-yo tag that has dogged them for many years.

Season So Far: 7/10

Inspiration: Shane Long

Disappointment: Peter Odemwingie

 

EVERTON

It’s been a better start than usual to a Premier League season for the Toffees, but you could essentially copy and paste their season report year in, year out. Lack of goals, mid table security, Moyes doing a wonderful job…blah blah blah. All the same this year, but goals are a real worry; we haven’t seen Tim Cahill’s corner flag boxing all season, whilst there is no money to improve the situation. Everton need to hang onto the young prospects to ensure they do finish mid-table again, as Barkley, Rodwell, Baines et all keep the club afloat. It’s difficult to see where they can progress next without any investment and it’s quite a tough time to be an Everton fan at the moment.

Season So Far: 6.5/10

Inspiration: Jack Rodwell

Disappointment: Tim Cahill

 

NORWICH

Paul Lambert led his side to back-to-back promotions, but many thought Norwich’s luck would run out this year. This hasn’t been the case however, and Lambert’s brand of attacking football has paid dividends so far, as the Canaries have nicked points in a few matches that you wouldn’t expect them to. As with Blackpool last year though, defence may cost them, they haven’t kept a clean sheet all year, but to occupy 11th spot halfway through is a remarkable achievement.

Season So Far: 9/10

Inspiration: Grant Holt/Anthony Pilkington

Disappointment: Kyle Naughton

 

ASTON VILLA

Given the turmoil surrounding Alex McLeish’s arrival, it is unsurprising Villa are yet to impress this year. The Scot cannot win over the fans, especially playing a brand of football that is rather dull in comparison to previous years. They are the draw specialists, picking up eight 1 pointers so far and promising signings like Alan Hutton and Jermaine Jenas haven’t found their form. The start of the New Year could be crucial for them, a good run of form could see them into the top half, but a few defeats and McLeish’s head will be on the line well and truly.

Season So Far: 5.5/10

Inspiration: Gabriel Agbonlahor

Disappointment: Charles N’Zogbia

FULHAM

Fulham’s rather unceremonious split with manager Mark Hughes raised a few issues about Chairman Mohammed Al Fayed. Hughes’ reasoning behind his departure lay in the fact that the club’s ambitions did not match his and this appears to have been the case under Martin Jol’s leadership. A typical Fulham season has followed, decent at Craven Cottage, awful on the road and occupying a mid table spot not far off Europe, not far off relegation. The club never seems to change and unfortunately they lost their European spot after Odense’s last minute equaliser, making for a rather dull 2012 for Fulham fans.

Season So Far: 5.5/10

Inspiration: Clint Dempsey

Disappointment: Bryan Ruiz

 

SWANSEA

The first Welsh side to reach the Premier League have won themselves many supporters with an attacking style of football that has continued from their successful Championship campaign. The Swans are brilliant at home, but really need to sort out their away days if they want to retain Premiership status. They were however, the bookies’ favourite for the drop so to be 14th at this stage is a remarkable achievement from Brendan Rodgers’ boys. A couple of January investments and I think Wales will still enjoy Premiership football next season.

Season So Far: 8/10

Inspiration: Michel Vorm

Disappointment: Scott Sinclair

 

Sunderland

Suffered the first managerial casualty of the season after an awful run of form left Steve Bruce and his Sunderland team teetering over the edge. His rebuilding job in the summer seems not to have worked and he was shafted by Asamoah Gyan’s decision to move, leaving him short on strikers. Signings like Wes Brown and John O’Shea haven’t paid off and now Martin O’Neill has come in to pick up the pieces. He is a brilliant appointment though and should turn the club’s fortunes around easily, especially if they pick up a goalscorer in January.

Season So Far: 1/10

Inspiration: Seb Larsson

Disappointment: John O’Shea

 

QPR

Neil Warnock looked set for a titanic struggle until new owner Tony Fernandes came in and put some money into the coffers. Warnock didn’t really have enough time to improve his squad dramatically but made some sound additions, bringing in Joey Barton and Shaun Wright-Phillips. Results have been a mixed bag and it is surprising to see QPR doing the worst out of the newly promoted sides, but the squad has a decent backbone and with funds to spend in January, except Warnock and his boys to start climbing the table soon.

Season So Far: 6/10

Inspiration: Heider Helguson

Disappointment: Adel Taarabt

 

WOLVES

Once again, Mick McCarthy is fighting relegation despite making some decent signings in the summer. Roger Johnson hasn’t reproduced his Birmingham form, whilst Matt Jarvis looks a shadow of the player who won an England cap last season. An awful run of form saw fans abruptly call for Mick’s head, which seems a tad harsh, but results need to improve if they want to avoid the nail biting finish they endured last season. They have the squad to do it, but need to pick up results on a more consistent basis.

Season So Far: 3/10

Inspiration: Steven Fletcher

Disappointment: Roger Johnson

 

WIGAN

The departure of Charles N’Zogbia has confirmed that Wigan relied far too much on their talisman for the last couple of seasons. Roberto Martinez turned down Villa in the summer, but may live to regret his loyalty as his Wigan team flirt dangerously with the trapdoor. Dave Whelan loves Roberto for his miracle working of the last two seasons, but even Jesus would struggle to save this Wigan side, who to me, seem doomed this year. The side lacks quality across the park and even Colombian striker Hugo Rodallega has turned in a series of desperate displays. Good luck Roberto, you’ll need it.

Season So Far: 2/10

Inspiration: James McCarthy

Disappointment: Hugo Rodallega

 

BOLTON

Oh dear, oh dear. What is going on with Owen Coyle’s men. A brilliant 4-0 win on the opening day turned out to be the only highlight of a dismal start to the season. No-one can quite believe Bolton are in relegation trouble and without serious funds to lift them out of the danger zone, they are going to have to rely on Coyle’s astute use of the loan market again to steer clear of the drop. Older heads have been woeful and Gary Cahill looks Chelsea bound when the window opens. January could be an interesting month for the Trotters and I’m sure if it wasn’t Coyle in charge, we’d have already seen a change in manager.

Season So Far: 0/10

Inspiration: Ivan Klasnic

Disappointment: David N’Gog

 

BLACKBURN

Where do you start with Blackburn? Occupying the dreaded ‘bottom at Christmas’ spot is just a side note in their season so far. The atmosphere around Ewood Park is incredibly dark as fans wage war on Steve Kean and the owners, who have incredibly resisted the urge to change manager so far. Steve Kean must have armour-plated skin to have lasted this long and it is to his credit, but he looks so far out of his depth, it’s untrue. The playing squad isn’t bad and if the fans got behind the side, things might change. However, I have a feeling this is a situation that isn’t going to change unless the Venkys’ wield their chicken-chopping knives and use them on Steve Kean’s head. Look destined for the Championship.

Season So Far: 0/10

Inspiration: Yakubu

Disappointment: David Goodwillie

THE COIN TOSS PREMIERSHIP TIPS

 

Champions: Manchester United

Champions League: ManchesterCity, Tottenham, Arsenal

Europa League: Liverpool

FA Cup: ManchesterCity

League Cup: ManchesterCity

Relegated: Blackburn, Wigan, Swansea

 

2012: Ones To Watch

With 2012 almost upon us, a year that contains some noteworthy footballing dates, especially EURO 2012 and the Olympics, it is worth considering the men to keep an eye on for next year. Some you may have heard of, some you may have not, but this lot are set to make 2012 a year to remember.

  1. Mario Gotze – Whilst some in England may not be too familiar with this 19 year-old midfielder, the Germans are raving about their equivalent to Lionel Messi. German Football Association’s technical director Matthias Sammer called him “one of the best talents that we’ve ever had,” some praise considering this is the country that produced Franz Beckenbauer, Rudi Voller and Jurgen Klinsmann. He helped Dortmund to the German title last year and his speed, skill and creative ability have got Arsenal on the lookout. A move to Real Madrid looks more likely however, but watch out for this kid at the EUROS, he could light up the tournament.
  1. Phil Jones – You may say well Phil Jones has broken through in 2011 but there’s so much more to come from this highly talented superstar. A few eyebrows were raised given his £16.5million transfer fee, yet I doubt even Sir Alex expected him to have the impact he has done. Already looks a certainly for a seat on the plane to Poland and Ukraine, despite winning just 3 caps and he could well partner John Terry at the heart of defence. Just one thing Fergie, stop playing him in midfield.
  1. Ravel Morrison – 2012 is make or break for someone Manchester United rate very highly. Just 18, he inspired the Reds to their FA Youth Cup triumph last year and is said to be one of the more talented players to come off England most industrious production line. Attitude remains the problem though, indeed Morrison could well be in the first team squad already if it hadn’t been for run-ins on a number of occasions with the police. United are said to be at the end of their tether with him and given his contract runs out in the summer, he needs to buck up his ideas. Watch this space…
  1. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – Arsene Wenger has already touted his young winger to have a big impact in the New Year. He signed in the summer from Southampton for £12million but has found first team chances limited so far. His race paw and strength make him a better version of Theo Walcott though, and if Alex gets a run in the Gunners side, Theo could well find his place under threat for both club and country.
  1. Wilfried Zaha –CrystalPalace’s 19 year-old hotshot has been lighting up the Championship with some wonderful performances and spectacular goals that have caught the eye of many a Premiership scout. Despite recently signing a new 5 year contract, it would be a surprise to see Zaha still wearing Palace colours by the end of 2012, indeed Barcelona and Bayern Munich were believed to be interested in securing his signature.
  1. Jack Butland – Unless you play Football Manager, you probably won’t be aware of Birmingham’s young goalkeeping sensation. At just 18 years of age, he is impressing between the sticks at League 2 Cheltenham Town and manager Chris Hughton has big plans for him when he returns in the summer. 5 appearances to his name in the England u21 jersey, Joe Hart could be facing some serious competition at long last for his spot between the Wembley posts.
  1. Connor Wickham – All the talk surrounded this lad when he signed for Sunderland in the summer but he seems to have been forgotten in the midst of the Black Cats miserable performances and Steve Bruce’s sacking. Found opportunities hard to come by despite Sunderland’s lack of strikers and has scored just one goal, struggling to justify his £8million price tag. However, I back him to come good in 2012 under Martin O’Neill’s supervision, he definitely has the natural ability and there were bigger teams than Sunderland after him in the summer.
  1. Luuk De Jong – The Netherlands are a team with great international pedigree and are always there or thereabouts come international tournament time. This summer will be no different and whilst the stars of yesteryear are long gone with the likes of Davids, Van Nistlerooy and Clarence Seedorf now collecting their pensions, it is time for a new breed of Dutch talent to step forward. One man who could light the touchpaper is Luuk De Jong, a talented 21 year-old striker from FC Twente. Already with 6 international appearances under his belt, his name is sure to pop up at some point this summer.
  1. Steven Fletcher – A surprise choice, but the Scottish striker is enjoying a purple patch in the Premier League despite Wolves’ poor form. Already notched 7 goals for a side that traditionally struggle in the forwards’ department, the joint-record signing could well have a few bigger teams sniffing around in January and the summer. Back him to continue his goal scoring form into the New Year.
  1. Ross Barkley – Everton have another supremely talented player on their books and just like Wayne Rooney before him, astronomical fees are already being mentioned. One can only hope the likes of Chelsea leave him well alone and allow Ross to continue his footballing development under the superb David Moyes as the tough tackling midfielder has made quite an impression already. Watch out for him and Jack Rodwell forming an all-English combination to ensure Moyes works wonders on Merseyside again.

Heads or Tails

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Central Contracts: From the bottom up

In the 1990’s there were several disappointing performances for England and one of the reasons for this was the players excessive duty to their counties, meaning that England could rarely field a full strength side for their tours. Following this was the introduction of central contracts, which gave the England and Wales cricket board the ability to manage their players better and more efficiently by reducing their work loads and making them unavailable for their counties if need be.

By 1999 England were ranked the worst Test nation and since the introduction of central contracts our fortunes have improved, despite the odd blip. So can this success all be down to central contracts? Do we simply have better players than everyone else at the moment? Or have other teams lost their aura and star players? Whatever you believe there is no question that the reason England are currently ranked the number one test nation is due to the fact that they have an incredible number of resources to work with. From high calibre batsmen to tall fast bowlers – England have it covered, a brilliant system that deals with coaching, man management, along with strength and conditioning forms a near perfect structure for sports management. England have such strength in depth due to ample amounts of pre-planning and being one step ahead of their opposition, young stars found in county cricket are now being managed from an early age so that they don’t pick up niggling injuries that last out their careers, unlike others before them such as Simon Jones, Andrew Flintoff, Andy Caddick, Darren Gough and many more who may feel aggrieved at their huge amounts of injuries that limited their international appearances. Steven Finn for example is currently one of the most promising young fast bowlers after a successful ashes tour down under, since then he hasn’t been seen that much due to his strength and conditioning commitments and England limiting his availability in order to keep him injury free and match fit.

But England only have the ability to manage players in this way due to central contracts which allows them to have near, complete control over their players cricketing commitments. The financial rewards are handsome; you get a lovely new car and security in England’s future ambitions for you as a player, clearly it is something that every young county cricketer aspires to. Many believe it is the reason England could at any one time pick up to 9 different bowlers that would do a good job at test level. This strength in depth and competition for places could be the reason for England’s success, especially when you consider the ability of the replacements. Graham Onions couldn’t get a hint of a return into England’s attack, even after his brief but very impressive stint in 2009/10 and a successful season for Durham. Are central contracts the reason England’s selection is now more consistent and players experience fewer injuries? Are central contracts responsible for England’s rise to number one? Whatever you believe England have a great system that’s definitely working and long may it continue.

Ian Bell: The man in the making

Bell has always been one of England’s most talented batsmen but despite being easy on the eye and technically superb, England always knew there was something missing. At 29, whispers of Ian Bell’s maturity have indeed become reality, after being dropped from the test side in February 2009 Bell has shown guts, grit and determination to make the most of every opportunity to bat for England which some argue, may have been everything he lacked prior to being replaced in the side. Over the past two years he has delivered some exceptional performances in the test arena, but why the sudden change from scoring pretty 20’s and 30’s, to consistently hitting huge hundreds? At the time he may have been heartbroken however I’m sure now that Bell realises, been dropped in Antigua was the best move for his international career. With no technical issues to work on Bell knew that only a mental alteration was necessary, and after a successful county season for Warwickshire Kevin Pietersen’s injury during the 2009 ashes series opened an opportunity for Bell show his grown as a player and his ability to score “ugly runs”, he hasn’t looked back since. Scoring two hundreds and five half centuries in 2010 at an average of 65.5 as well as five centuries and two half centuries in 2011 at an average of 118.75, Bell is clearly now one of England’s most reliable batsmen.

Gone are the days when the youngster was tentative and look to play the perfect innings, here is the man that is positive and assertive in all aspects of his game. Finally we can start to see the full extent of his talent in the manner we were meant to, Paul Collingwood’s position at number five could never have hoped for such a confident and elegant player to fill his place. With this new found maturity comes further speculation over his batting position in this brilliant batting line up, Bell has always publicised his ambitions to bat at number three for England however, moving Trott, a stubborn mastermind out of this position, especially when he has been so consistent  is unlikely to happen in the near future. Though the opportunity for England to do so is always there as he proved himself once again in the recent test series against India batting at number 3 and scoring a massive 235 in an assured and positive manner. Since the days of Michael Vaughan’s retirement England have been searching for a solid replacement at number 3, is it possible that they now have two? Or is the script written so perfectly that with the future retirement of captain Andrew Strauss, Trott will move up to open, just as he has done in the past and bell will slot in beautifully at number three, experienced and mentally tough enough to be successful for many years.