Premier League 2012/2013: Team by Team Preview

Arsenal

Key Player: For me, Alex Song was second only to Robin Van Persie in terms of Arsenal’s best players last season and I think that they must do absolutely everything in their power to keep him at the club amidst rumours that Barcelona are on the verge of a securing a move for the dynamic midfield player. I think that losing Song would represent a greater loss to Arsenal than losing Van Persie as the Dutchman’s departure was always expected and therefore planned for whereas Song’s departure would leave Arsenal requiring some quick-fire work in the latter stages of the transfer window.

Alex Song Barcelona

Signings: Santi Cazorla, Lukas Podolski, Olivier Giroud

What they still need: If Arsenal are planning on offloading either Marouane Chamakh or Nicklas Bendtner then I think they need to invest in another striker but Arsene Wenger seems to think otherwise. They will also need to line up a very decent replacement for Alex Song if he is to be lured to the Nou Camp.

Prediction: 5th

Aston Villa

Key Player: Villa had a pretty dire season last year in almost every way but they certainly had their reasons. I can remember very few Premier League sides ever having endured such a terrible season of injury woe than Villa last year and the major loss of the bunch was Darren Bent who missed the most crucial part of the season as they were sucked into the relegation dogfight. With Bent back on the field they will stand a far greater chance of avoiding relegation worries this season as he remains their only major goal threat.

Bent Villa

Signings: Karim El Ahmadi, Brett Holman, Ron Vlaar, Matthew Lowton

What they still need: Villa could do with someone to help Bent out on the goal scoring front as Gabriel Agbonlahor’s contributions have never been consistent enough. Last season Villa also looked desperately short of creative sparks in their midfield and they would benefit from adding a creative player out wide. Someone like Matt Jarvis of Wolves or Gabriel Obertan of Newcastle would prove a decent addition to their squad and they are prbably both available at the right price.

Prediction: 13th

Chelsea

Key Player: Fernando Torres has struggled for form and fitness over the past few seasons but towards the end of last season there seemed to be a bit of an upturn in form for the once prolific Spaniard and this form followed him unto Spain’s successful Euro 2012 campaign where he won the Golden Boot. In the wake of Chelsea hero Didier Drogba’s departure Torres will need to step up to the plate and take on the bulk of their goal scoring burden and I think we will see something more like his old self in this campaign.

Torres Chelsea

Signings: Oscar, Marko Marin, Eden Hazard, Thorgan Hazard

What they still need: Chelsea need a right back to compete with Branislav Ivanovic and perhaps they could also do with another holding midfield player as Michael Essien seemed to struggle to reach his former heights last season. Don’t rule out a move for a striker either as they aren’t exactly over-stocked in that department.

Prediction: 3rd

Everton

Key Player: Everton are always brilliantly drilled and organised by their fantastic manager David Moyes but the only area in which they have truly struggled during his time at the club is in the goal-scoring department. Never before have they had a striker with such an eye for goal as Nikica Jelavic and if his first half season at the club is anything to go by then they may well have finally found themselves a 20 goal a season man.

Jelavic Everton

Signings: Steven Pienaar, Steven Naismith

What they still need: They were surprisingly active in the January transfer market and have already brought Steven Pienaar back to the club this summer so expect little more movement from Everton. Having said that though, I think a rumoured move for Michael Owen would represent the sort of low-risk move which might take David Moyes’ fancy and he could prove a decent addition if he can keep fit.

Prediction: 8th

Fulham

Key Player: Fulham’s star man is Clint Dempsey. He is far and away their best player and his ability to score a huge haul of goals from midfield has been the difference between them being a mid-table club rather than a side battling to avoid relegation in recent times and it is of paramount importance that they hold on to him if they are to have any chance of progressing. It does however sound like he is at the top of Liverpool’s wanted list and one would have to think that the move will probably go through.

Dempsey Fulham

Signings: Mladen Petric, Hugo Rodallega, Sascha Reither, George Williams

What they still need: If Dempsey decides to move to Liverpool then Fulham will need to either invest in a striker who can take on the task of replacing the void left by Dempsey’s departure in their goals tally or alternatively a midfielder in the Dempsey mould who can score and create goals on a regular basis.

Prediction: 12th

Liverpool

Key Player: He may well be the most, or at very least one of the most, maligned players in the league but Luis Suarez is undoubtedly Liverpool’s best offensive player and they will rely heavily upon him to try and re-assert themselves as a real Premier League force this season. In terms of his contribution in purely football terms Suarez has enjoyed a very decent first season and a half in English football but he needs to score a greater bulk of goals than he has done so far if he is to be truly regarded as one of the most highly revered strikers in world football.

Suarez Liverpool

Signings: Joe Allen, Fabio Borini

What they still need: If Daniel Agger moves to City then Liverpool will definitely have to replace him with someone like Steven Caulker and they could also do with adding more bite to their midfield. It sounds as if they are keen to secure a deal to sign Clint Dempsey and I don’t think there are many sides in the league who wouldn’t benefit from adding him to their squad. Christian Tello and Nuri Sahin are both very firmly on their radar also…

Prediction: 6th

Manchester City

Key Player: Yaya Toure had a sublime season last year and was  arguably the key component of their first ever Premier League winning side. He has adapted his game so easily since joining the club and he has transformed himself into one of the most dynamic roaming midfielders in world football. If City are to make it back-to-back titles then they will need Toure to keep fit and to reach the same levels as last season.

Toure Man City

Signings: Jack Rodwell

What they still need: Do City really need anyone? They could perhaps do with some more competition in central defence as replacement centre half Stefan Savic didn’t look up to the task last season and Daniel Agger would be a great signing if they could pull it off.

Prediction: 1st

Manchester United

Key Player: He may not seem the obvious choice but I think Michael Carrick could and should have a huge part to play in United’s season. At his best he is one of the Premier League’s finest distributors of the ball and he possesses the ability to relieve his defence of an enormous amount of pressure with his very efficient positioning and shielding of the back four. When he is high on confidence he is a totally different player than when he is in and out of the starting lineup and I think it is of little coincidence that United are at their best when Carrick is thriving in the heart of their midfield.

Carrick Man Utd

Signings: Robin Van Persie, Nick Powell, Shinji Kagawa

What they still need: Signing Van Persie has given their chances of gaining revenge on City a huge boost. They could however still do with some more defensive cover and perhaps a holding midfielder.

Prediction: 2nd

Newcastle

Key Player: Since joining Newcastle Cheik Tiote has become one of the most sought after midfield players in English football as his destructive and combative talents have proved completely vital to Newcastle’s successful return to top-flight football. It seems as though Newcastle have done a fantastic job of keeping him happy at the club as I’m sure there would be a whole host of suitors for one of the Premier League’s best holding midfield players if he was ever to declare anything other than his enormous affection for the club.

Tiote Newcastle

Signings: Curtis Good, Romain Amalfitano, Vurnon Anita, Gael Bigrimana

What they still need: Newcastle still need some defensive cover having looked threadbare at the back throughout the second half of last season, other than that though their squad is looking pretty well set for a challenge at securing European qualification for the second season running.

Prediction: 7th

Norwich

Key Player: Last season Grant Holt not only realised his dream of playing Premier League football but he also became perhaps the surprise success story of the entire Premier League season as he banged in the goals which kept Norwich clear of danger. If Norwich are to avoid danger again then Holt will surely again have to reach a similarly decent goals tally.

Holt Norwich

Signings: Michael Turner, Robert Snodgrass, Jacob Butterfield, Javier Garrido, Steven Whittaker

What they still need: Norwich need to bring someone in who can share the goal scoring burden with Grant Holt and they would benefit from investing in a quality centre half.

Prediction: 20th

QPR

Key Player: One of the more interesting transfer deals of the summer has seen Park Ji-Sung leave Manchester United for Queens Park Rangers. Not satisfied anymore with life on the periphery of the United side Park decided to ‘up sticks’ and he signed for Rangers in what could prove to be a great bit of business for the West-Londoners. He became well renowned for his tremendous attitude and work ethic at United but when he was at his best he was more than just a dedicated squad member. He has terrific off the ball movement and if he can just make more of his uncanny ability to pop up in great areas then I’m sure he’ll prove to be a big hit at Loftus Road.

Signings: Park Ji-Sung, Fabio, Ryan Nelsen, Samba Diakite, Andy Johnson, Rob Green, Junior Hoilett

What they still need: QPR need to make improvements in defence having looked very leaky at the back last season and they would be wise to add further defensive recruits as they have the potential to become a top-ten side if only they can find a bit more stability throughout their squad.

Prediction: 10th

Reading

Key Player: Any new Premier League sides desperately need a striker who can reach at least double figures on the goals front and in signing Pavel Pogrebnyak Reading way well have found themselves one. Pogrebnyak’s arrival at the club appears to be a real coup as a couple of more established Premier League and European Clubs were after his services and if he can re-create his start whilst on loan at Fulham last season then he will prove to be a crucial part of Reading’s bid for survival.

Pogrebnyak Reading

Signings: Chris Gunter, Pavel Pogrebnyak, Danny Guthrie, Adrian Mariappa, Nicky Shorey, Gareth McCleary

What they still need: Reading have done pretty well in the transfer market so far having beaten more established sides to the signatures of Pogrebnyak and Guthrie but they could still do with adding some Premier League experience to their squad right across the board. Many are tipping them for the drop but I think they could have a pretty good season.

Prediction:15th

Southampton

Key Player: Rickie Lambert has proven himself to be a lethal marksman at football league and championship level but it remains to be seen whether he can emulate the likes of Grant Holt and make a success of himself in the Premier League. Southampton haven’t invested much in new signings so far this summer so if they are to re-establish themselves as a top-flight side then they will be reliant once again on Lambert finding the back of the net on a regular basis.

Lambert Southampton

Signings: Jay Rodriguez, Steven Davis, Nathaniel Clyne, Paolo Gazzaniga

What they still need: Southampton must add greater numbers and a greater amount of experience to their squad as they look a little lightweight in every department at the minute. The signings they have made so far have actually been pretty good but they definitely need to invest more if they are to have any hope of staying up.

Prediction:18th

Stoke

Key Player: Tony Pulis put a lot of faith in Peter Crouch last summer when he splashed over £10m on the ageing England international but his faith was repaid as Crouch led the line admirably for the Potters. Hopes will be high again for Crouch to deliver and if he scores ten to fifteen goals then Stoke should be in decent shape to avoid being lured into a relegation battle.

Crouch Stoke City

Signings: Michael Kightly, Geoff Cameron, Jamie Ness

What they still need: Stoke have done a great job establishing themselves as a Premier League club and now they need to ensure that this remains the case. If they are to steer clear of any flirtations with trouble then I think they need to sign a creative central midfield player as they are short of genuine playmakers.

Prediction: 14th

Sunderland

Key Player: Last season Stephane Sessegnon was far and away Sunderland’s best player. The diminutive midfielder is an elusive off the ball runner and he has the ability to unlock doors in any opposition’s defences so he will always be a major threat. If they can keep him sweet and team him up with a new front man then he could well continue to establish himself as one of the Premier League’s finest playmakers.

Sessegnon Sunderland

Signings: Louis Saha, Carlos Cuellar

What they still need: They may have added Saha to their ranks but they still desperately need another striker and it sounds as if they are trying their utmost to land Steven Fletcher from Wolves. They could also do with more cover across all positions at the back.

Prediction: 9th

Swansea

Key Player: In the wake of Joe Allen’s departure from the club, Swansea are left without arguably their best player from last season but up until now at least they have managed to hold on to Scott Sinclair who has also been fantastic for them over the past couple of seasons. In his attacking midfield role Michael Laudrup will need Sinclair, his star man, to contribute heavily both in terms of goals scored and assists made otherwise the Swans could struggle to remain a Premier League club come the end of the season.

Sinclair Swansea City

Signings: Michu, Jose Manuel Flores, Jonathan De Guzman, Itay Shechter

What they still need: Swansea could do with replacing the playmaking talents of the departed Joe Allen and it wouldn’t hurt them to try and sign a new striker to compete for a place with Danny Graham as well. If Scott Sinclair is tempted away in the coming weeks by Manchester City then it would also be of paramount importance that they find a suitable replacement.

Prediction: 17th

Tottenham

Key Player: New signing Jan Vertonghen has impressed greatly in his time at former club Ajax and Spurs will need to him to settle very quickly in London if they are seriously challenge for the top few places in the league. Now that their defensive rock Ledley King has finally had to call it a day for his injury-plagued career there is a huge void left in Tottenham’s defence which creaked at times last year and Vertonghen will be required to fill it.

Vertonghen Spurs

Signings: Jan Vertonghen, Gylfi Sigurdsson

What they still need: A replacement for Luka Modric is a must and they could do with a couple of strikers also. They will still be hoping they can make a deal for Emmannuel Adebayor work and they may also try to land either one of Loic Remy or Leandro Damaio who have both been on their radar for quite a while. Andy Carroll could also be an option…

Prediction: 4th

West Brom

Key Player: Ben Foster has proven himself to be a very decent Premier League goalkeeper at a few different clubs now and though he is a keeper with an error-prone streak in him he is also a keeper capable of match-winning performances. Sometimes there seems to be absolutely no way past Foster and West Brom will need him to have several of these days in the forthcoming season if they are to avoid a post-Roy Hodgson era hangover under new manager Steve Clarke.

Foster West Brom

Signings: Markus Rosenberg, Ben Foster, Yassine El Ghanassy, Claudio Yacob

What they still need: West Brom’s squad could do with the addition of a striker who could bag them 15-20 goals a season and a midfielder capable of providing the service necessary to make this possible. Matt Jarvis might be a good option as he is a proven creator and scorer of Premier League goals from wide positions.

Prediction: 19th

West Ham

Key Player: James Tomkins has already had a taste of Premier League action having featured regularly in West Ham’s relegation season but this time he will be hoping to prove that he has developed his game sufficiently to help West Ham avoid the drop this time around. He has been the recipient of a lot of praise since West Ham found themselves back in the Championship and he will be desperate to continue his strong rate of development at the highest level this season.

Tomkins West Ham

Signings: Modibo Maiga, James Collins, Alou Diarra, Mohamed Diame, Stephen Henderson, Jussi Jaaskelainen, George McCartney

What they still need: The Hammers have recruited very well so far this summer but if they have aspirations of doing more than just staying up then they could do with one or two more faces. Their midfield now looks packed with strength and combative players but they still look slightly lightweight in terms of creative forces.

Prediction: 11th

Wigan

Key Player: New signing Arouna Kone notched an impressive 17 goals in 34 appearances for former club Levante last season and if Wigan are to steer clear of their now annual relegation battle then he will need to be similarly potent for his new club. Wigan have always struggled to find a consistent goal scorer in their years as a Premier League club but in Kone they may finally have found one. We’ll have to wait and see…

Kone Wigan

Signings: Arouna Kone, Fraser Fyvie, Ivan Ramis

What they still need: They could do with strengthening their defence and adding toughness to their midfield, they ideally would like to add players who already have Premier League experience. Another must for Wigan is either holding onto Victor Moses or alternatively spending the money made from any deal involving Moses wisely on a player or a couple of players who are capable of replacing his considerable talents.

Prediction: 16th

Euro 2012: Day 12 Predictions

France Vs. Sweden:

The simple equation for France is that they will not only qualify for the quarter-finals but will also top the group and receive a ‘preferential’ draw for the next round if they better England’s result against the Ukraine.

Benzema and Menez France

If France are to top the group and become a real threat at the Euros Karim Benzema will have to back up his decent performances with some goals

One might be forgiven for thinking that this should be a simple task given the fact the Sweden are already guaranteed to go no further in the competition and that they have lost both of their opening two games of the tournament. However, on numerous occasions we have seen sides in similar positions in major tournament football produce courageous performances in their final game when the pressure has been lifted from their shoulders.

In fact, last night’s performance from Ireland is a very good example as they played with tremendous heart and at times looked like getting something out of their game against an Italian side that needed all three points to have a a chance of progressing to the quarters.

Ireland may ultimately have lost the match as they had their first two games of the tournament but Sweden will surely be determined to produce a similar level of performance and to avoid going out with a wimper when things could have been so different had they not relinquished leads against both the Ukraine and then England.

I think France will win the game but I think Sweden will make them work for it. I think the final score will be 2-1 to the French with Karim Benzema to open his goal scoring account for the tournament.

 

Ukraine Vs. England:

For England’s third and final group game they know that they must avoid defeat to confirm their qualification to the quarter-finals and that they have to better France’s result against Sweden if they want to top the group and play Italy rather than Spain in the next round.

Rooney and Walcott Euro 2012

Rooney and Walcott look set for their first starts of the tournament

Standing in England’s way is a Ukranian side who they will be well advised not to under-estimate as they too could also go through to the quarters if they get a result and they could even top the group against all the odds if both results went their way on the final day of Group D.

Up to this point England have managed to get two very decent results and have placed themselves in a strong position going into the Ukraine game but neither of their two performances have inspired a great deal of confidence. They have shown great heart and resilience in both games but against France they were pinned right back onto the back foot for the bulk of the game and against Sweden they may have demonstrated more offensive ambition and ultimately have found the necessary killer instinct, but where they had done so well at the back against France they switched off to give Olof Mellberg two free headers for his brace which momentarily had England trailing.

Having struggled to find the right balance in their opening two matches, England will be delighted to have come out of these two opening games with four points to their name and they will today be welcoming their best player back into the fold as Wayne Rooney returns from his two match suspension.

As well as Rooney being included most are expecting Roy Hodgson to opt for Theo Walcott on the right wing after his match-winning performance having come off of the substitutes bench against the Swedes. With these two restored to the starting line-up England will have a much more naturally offensive look about their team and I think this is the right way to go against the Ukraine who have looked a little frail at the back and when taking into account that they need to outdo whatever the French manage against Sweden in order to win the group.

I think that  Rooney will come charging out of the blocks and will make up for lost time by scoring at least one goal in an England victory. I think the final score will be something like 3-1 but as it is England expect there to be a few twists and turns thrown in to put us fans right through the full spectrum of emotions.

Euro 2012: Day 8 Predictions

France Vs Ukraine:

In the opening game France were undoubtedly the side dictating the play against England but they did seem to lack real drive and creative ability in the middle of the park. This is a problem which needs to be sorted very quickly if they are to fulfil their ambitions at this tournament, as the likes of Samir Nasri and Karim Benzema were forced to drop deep on too many occasions which meant that the French struggled to make real inroads into the heart of the English defence in spite of their possessional and territorial superiority.

Shevchenko Ukraine

Andriy Shevchenko re-captured some of the old magic against Sweden and will need to be even more clinical against the French

It is arguable that the Ukranian defence will present greater openings for the French to take advantage of than England afforded them  but still the French must focus on using the ball more effectively and supplying their more dangerous players with greater opportunities to harm the opposition.

France’s opponents on Friday are the co-hosts Ukraine who pulled off one of the results of the first round when they defeated Sweden by two goals to one in Kiev. Inspired by their ageing talisman Andriy Shevchenko, Ukraine managed to fight back from a goal behind and in doing so proved that they may well do better than people expected them to.

In addition to Shevchenko it was Ukraine’s young attacking midfielder Andriy Yarmolenko that caught the eye for the co-hosts  in their opening victory. He looked strong, full of energy and technically very sound when crossing from wide positions. If the Ukraine are to push for qualification to the latter stages of the competition then he will surely be key to their hopes and France and England must both be wary of the threat that he poses.

Even though I was pleasantly surprised by the performance of the co-hosts in the opening game they did seem constantly troubled by the presence of Sweden’s real world-class talent Zlatan Ibrahimovic and I think they will struggle to keep the French at bay as they possess more than just one major attacking threat. I think France will win this game 3-1 and will put themselves in a very decent position in the group.

England Vs. Sweden:

Whilst England will be fairly pleased with their first performance of the Euros, today’s opponents Sweden will be more than a little irritated with their own progress to date.

Carroll Welbeck

If England do opt for two front-men then Carroll and Welbeck could cause the Swedish back four some real problems

The Swedes performance in the 2-1 loss to the Ukraine was very disappointing and it is of no real surprise that there are rumours circling of division in the camp in the wake of such a disorganised outing against a side who they will feel they should have beaten.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic for long periods of the game seemed the only player in the Sweden side capable of causing any damage at all but even he was a little wasteful at times and at the back their experienced campaigners Olof Mellberg and Andreas Granqvist appeared as if they had under-estimated and were ill-prepared for the threat posed by Andriy Shevchenko in terms of his movement and his aerial ability.

It is this lack of defensive organisation which will excite England the most going into the second game of the tournament as their side is likely to be packed with players capable of causing the Swedish defence a lot of problems in the air.

It sounds as if England are going to opt for two front men in this game with Andy Carroll expected to take the place of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain whose likely omission will mean that Ashley Young will switch to a wider role on the left. I for one think that this switch in formation is a sensible one going into the game against Sweden given their apparent weaknesses in defence and if Ashley Young and James Milner can provide decent service from the wings then Danny Welbeck and Carroll should have plenty to feed off of.

I think England will win the game 2-0 and will sit joint top of Group D with France come the end of today.

England’s Euros Squad: The Ups and Downs of Roy’s first squad and what I would have done differently

In the wake of one of the most protracted squad releases ever known to man, the world and his wife have begun to let their feelings be known about Roy Hodgson’s first England squad selection and it must be said that most are a little bit irked by a few omissions and selections.

Hodgson England

The headlines in short are that Steven Gerrard has been named captain, Rio Ferdinand misses out, John Terry makes the cut in spite of the on-going race row, Kyle Walker misses out through injury, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and John Ruddy are in despite never having played for the national side and Micah Richards, Peter Crouch, Darren Bent, Daniel Sturridge and Phil Jagielka have all missed out.

If I were in charge my squad would be as follows:

Joe Hart, Rob Green, John Ruddy

Glen Johnson, Phil Jones, Gary Cahill, John Terry, Joleon Lescott, Rio Ferdinand, Ashley Cole, Leighton Baines

Theo Walcott, Frank Lampard, Scott Parker, Steven Gerrard, Michael Carrick, James Milner, Ashley Young, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain

Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck, Daniel Sturridge, Andy Carroll

Reserves: David Stockdale, Phil Jagielka, Adam Johnson, Aaron Lennon, Peter Crouch

I think the goalkeeping selections in ‘my squad’ are the same as what Roy’s because, quite frankly, there are only very few other viable options. The likes of Ben Foster and Paul Robinson would be hard to tempt back into international football given that they would only be back-up options to Joe Hart who in reality will probably start every game of the tournament even if he plays really poorly.

My defensive selections are also very similar to Roy’s. I too would have ignored Micah Richards as he hasn’t been able to find a place in City’s line-up in recent weeks which I believe speaks volumes about a lack of faith in his ability to be trusted in big games. The only alteration between my selection and that of Hodgson is my inclusion of Rio Ferdinand as an eighth defender. I think Ferdinand has performed admirably at times throughout the latter half of the Premier League season and if his omission is down to “footballing reasons” and not an unwillingness to partner John Terry then I would still have him alongside JT in my starting line-up.

My midfield selections are also fairly similar to Hodgson’s. I though would never even have considered Stewart Downing for a place in the squad given his dismal form this season and I would have instead taken an extra central midfielder in the form of Michael Carrick who I think has had a very strong season in Manchester United’s midfield. Another player who has made Hodgson’s squad but would fall short of making mine is James Milner who has struggled to find a starting place at Manchester City over the second half of this season. I know his omission would be a little controversial given his very strong and determined character and his versatility but I am wary of taking too many players that are either out of form or struggling to get into their club sides.

My four striking options would consist of Rooney, Welbeck, Carroll and Sturridge. Rooney and Welbeck are must haves after their respective campaigns at Manchester United, Carroll would provide a direct, target-man option and Sturridge would provide flexibility and versatility with his ability to play either through the middle or out a little wider as part of a front three. I would omit Jermain Defoe from my squad for the same reasons as I stated about James Milner, he is undoubtedly a very good finisher and he does have decent experience of international football but I struggle to see him making a huge impact when he has been limited to a place on the subs bench for much of the Premier League season.

In summary I think the positives of Roy’s selection are as follows:

John Ruddy’s selection as the third keeper: It is nice to see Ruddy’s development this season rewarded with a call up and I think his form has warranted acknowledgment of this nature.

Micah Richards’ omission: I think Micah Richards offers a lot in the Premier League but when up against the world’s best wingers and full-backs I still think he lacks discipline. I think he will be a part of England’s World Cup squad for Brazil in 2014 but for nowI think he still needs to do more.

The selection of Gerrard and Lampard in midfield: Many were calling for one or both of England’s veteran centre midfielders to be axed in favour of a promotion of younger options but they are both still well worth a place in the squad for me.

Picking Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain: This was a decision that took a lot of guts and I definitely think it’s the right call. I would go as far as to consider the Ox for a starting berth as I think he has the ability to provide a real surprise factor at the Euros. If he were German or Dutch then I think that their coaches would be throwing him straight into their line-ups as their policy of promoting young talent on the big stage in recent times has proven successful.

Andy Carroll taken as one of England’s strikers: Many will point to Carroll’s poor form since moving to Anfield in arguing that he isn’t worth a place but I think his more recent signs of life and in particular his strong performance in the FA Cup Final as a second half substitute are enough to suggest that he could be a key player for England next month.

And now for my thoughts on what I think are the glaring mistakes in Hodgson’s selection…

The  ‘Downs’ of Hodgson’s squad selection:

The omission of Rio Ferdinand: He may not be the force of old but I think Rio is definitely still one of the four best centre backs in the country and should therefore have been selected.

Stewart Downing making the cut: I don’t understand how a player so horribly out of sorts can make England’s national squad in a position which we are actually quite well stocked in. I simply cannot fathom how he has been preferred to other wide men such as Adam Johnson and Aaron Lennon. For me this is the worst selection in the whole of Roy’s first squad.

The omission of Michael Carrick: I have forever been fighting the corner of Michael Carrick as being someone worthy of a place in the international set-up but it seems that yet another England manager doesn’t much fancy him. I may be a touch biased given that I am a United fan but I think he has had a very decent season and that he offers the defensive qualities of someone like Gareth Barry whilst also offering a superior ability to distribute the ball. Sadly it now appears as if he is ready to turn his back on international football.

The omission of Daniel Sturridge: He may have struggled to hold down a place in Chelsea’s starting line-up since Di Matteo took over at the club but before that he was arguably one of Chelsea’s best players this season. Versatility is crucial for sides hoping to go deep into major tournaments and I think he would provide that in abundance.

Premier League Predictions: The Final Weekend

Rooney Aguero

Rooney and Aguero will be hoping to score the crucial goals in the title deciding games this Sunday

 

Chelsea 3-0 Blackburn

In the grand scheme of things this game means very little as Chelsea are resigned to relying on a Champions League final win to secure Champions League qualification and Blackburn are already relegated after their loss to Wigan in the week.

The game will however provide both managers with a chance to prove why they deserve to keep their jobs. Di Matteo has done a fantastic job with Chelsea since he took over but the success he has delivered to the Blues in the Champions League and the FA Cup hasn’t quite been replicated in the league. His opposite number, Steve Kean, would be well advised to wear a tin hat as he sits in the dug out at the weekend as his own fans are sure to give him yet another rollocking off the back of their slump to certain relegation. I think Di Matteo will sign off in style at the Bridge and hopefully in doing so might convince Abramovic that he is right for the job.

Everton 1-1 Newcastle

Newcastle’s loss to City last weekend has probably ruled them out of grabbing a Champions League spot but that should do nothing to dampen the praise that Alan Pardew and his men have been rightfully receiving for their efforts this campaign. I think that they will struggle to break down David Moyes’ Everton who could live to regret not defeating the likes of already relegated Wolves as they may just miss out on finishing higher than bitter rivals Liverpool. I think this will be a really close game and I wouldn’t be surprised if star January signings Nikica Jelavic and Papiss Demba Cisse score a goal apiece in a score-draw.

Man City 2-1 QPR

Surely the pick of the games on the final Sunday of the season! City must win to secure the title (bar a cricket score at the Stadium of Light where United take on Sunderland) and QPR must draw to guarantee survival (bar another cricket score at the Britannia where Bolton travel to Stoke).

I think City will come out all guns blazing, for want of a better cliche, and will create plenty of chances but I wouldn’t be surprised if the nerves get to them a little on the day and they miss a few gilt-edged chances en-route to a victory by perhaps a smaller margin than should be the case.

I think QPR must try and score because I can’t see them shutting out City at the Etihad. If they can produce a similarly uncompromising and forward thinking performance as they managed earlier this season at home to the champions-elect then maybe, just maybe, they can make this one of the most memorable final days of all time. I reckon City will go a couple ahead within the first hour but that QPR will get one back and send some jitters around the Etihad.

Norwich 1-1 Aston Villa

I can’t see this game setting the world alight and now that Villa are effectively safe from the drop there is actually very little riding on it.

Norwich have had a fantastic season and deserve an enormous amount of praise as I am one of many who though their squad was way too lightweight for them to survive let alone find themselves in mid-table come the end of the season. On the other hand I thought that Villa would have done a lot better than they have this campaign but in fairness to their manager Alex McLeish they have had a rotten season on the injury’s front. This game could even prove to be a scoreless bore-draw.

Stoke 2-2 Bolton Wanderers

I think Bolton will push the home side all the way in this one as they try desperately to avoid the drop but I think their efforts will eventually prove to be futile.

I am surprised to see them struggling so low in the table but they have got themselves stuck in a rut and now I think they will go down. For the sake of the fans and in fact the club as a whole I truly hope they don’t get relegated as they have had an awful lot to deal with this year given the stress and mental torment caused by the Fabrice Muamba’s heart-breaking (no pun intended) collapse against Spurs. I also think that the loss of Stuart Holden and Lee Chung-Yong to injury has been fatal to their hopes of Premier League survival as they were both very impressive throughout last season.

This game will give the likes of Peter Crouch the opportunity to prove that they are worth a place in England’s squad for the Euros and I expect to see his name on the scoresheet in a score-draw.

Sunderland 1-3 Manchester United

United need to win to have any hope of leap-frogging rivals Manchester City on the final day of this year’s title race and I think they will get one against a Sunderland side who appear to be playing just for pride.

Sunderland won’t simply bow down and they do have players that can harm United but I think the stakes are too high for Manchester United to fluff their lines so I can see it being a decent win for Sir Alex Ferguson’s men as they hope for a slip-up at the Etihad Stadium.

Sir Alex will hope for a couple of early goals in order to try and send a message of intent and to try and send a wave of nervousness and tension back home to Manchester where the worries of the City fans could translate into impatience and panic on the field.

Swansea 1-2 Liverpool

Swansea have had an amazing season and their manager Brendan Rogers must surely have attracted the interest of some higher powers at some of the Premier League’s more established clubs. The way he has encouraged Swansea to play ‘real’ passing football and made it a successful match-winning strategy is truly admirable and I think he would make for a fantastic replacement to Arsene Wenger at Arsenal at some point in the future.

Liverpool’s league campaign has been dreadful but their emphatic win over Chelsea in midweek will have instilled them with confidence and I expect them to win this game and finish one point ahead of rivals Everton in the race to be the highest placed club on Merseyside. Watch out for Andy Carroll in this one as he aims to continue his half decent form and push for a place in Roy Hodgson’s England squad.

Tottenham 3-1 Fulham

Tottenham have struggled over the past three months but have shown major signs of a revival in their past couple of games as their Champions League hopes have got back on track. They may now need Chelsea to miss out in the Champions League final against Bayern Munich but that is certainly better than not having any hope at all which would be the case if they dropped out of the top four.

Fulham have done very well to have a chance of reaching what could yet be a record points tally for them in the Premier League after a tough start to the season but I think they will lose out to Spurs who have a far greater prize to play for on the final day. If Bale and Lennon find their marauding best as they have done in the last couple of games then Spurs should win.

West Brom 1-2 Arsenal

West Brom have had a very good campaign en-route to further establishing themselves as a Premier League club and departing boss Roy Hodgson must be praised highly for his role in their development…oh wait, he already has…

However, I think the Baggies will lose out in a game which is of far greater importance to their opponents Arsenal who will be keen to finish third and avoid the uncertainty of potentially missing out on the Champions League if Chelsea were to beat Bayern in the Champions League final.

Without the brilliance of Robin Van Persie I think Arsenal would have finished outside of the top five this season but I expect him to score yet again in this crucial final game of the season. If they do secure a Champions League place then it is vital they hold onto their captain as the prospect of him partnering new recruit Lukas Podolski up-front next season is pretty tasty.

Wigan 2-0 Wolves

The visitors to the DW this weekend, Wolves, have endured a pretty torrid season and they might be glad to get this last game out of the way as they plan for life back in the Championship.

Their opponents on the final day, Wigan, might have feared that this weekend would also mark the day that they dropped back out of English football’s top flight given the precariousness of their league position a couple of months ago but manager Roberto Martinez has worked wonders.

Neither side has too much to play for given Wigan’s guaranteed survival and Wolves’ certain departure from Premier League football but I expect Wigan to keep their staggering run of form going with a comfortable win. Martinez might actually want to use this game as something of a scouting mission as Wolves do have a couple of very decent players on their books such as Matt Jarvis and they could be within budget for Wigan over the summer as they try to build on their season of flirting with relegation.

 

 

The Winner and Losers of Roy Hodgson’s England Apoointment

The Winners:

 

Roy Hodgson (obviously…)

Image

 

Though Hodgson was always viewed as a creditable dark horse in the race to land English football’s top job, it is more than safe to say that most people either thought Harry Redknapp was the right man for the job or that he was going to be the one chosen by the FA to take England forward.

 

Sadly for Hodgson, who as I mention was always a worthy candidate, there probably will always be a sense of lingering doubt amongst the England fan community given most people’s preference was Redknapp and that the FA seemingly didn’t see fit to formally approach the Spurs boss. As a result of the FA’s recruitment process and what we publicly know of it, it would be absolutely no surprise to hear fans moaning about Hodgson’s appointment and bemoaning Redknapp’s omission if things go a little pear-shaped at any point in Roy’s tenure.

 

My personal view is that Hodgson is a good manager with a solid track record. This isn’t exactly a gleaming review I know, but there are certainly a few question marks over his lack of success in a couple of his bigger roles which take away a little from the wealth of both club and international managerial experience he has accrued and the success he has enjoyed most notably in his time in Sweden and more recently with Fulham and West Brom.

 

There is certainly fuel in the argument against Hodgson’s record at the bigger clubs on his CV but it would be hard to argue against his knowledge and experience of the game. I would have preferred a more dynamic and exciting choice such as Mourinho or Pardew if the FA weren’t gunning for Harry but I can see why they have opted for Hodgson and I wish him all the best.

 

Everyone needs to cut him some slack and give him a decent crack at the job, it isn’t his fault the FA have chosen him so the players and fans alike just need to let him do the job he has always dreamed of doing and hopefully he will be a success.

 

Rio Ferdinand

 

Roy Hodgson is a very wise manager and has been around the block way too many times for him to not grasp the importance of experience and Rio is a player with a wealth of it.

 

He may not have featured in the side for quite some time due to form, fitness and perhaps more recently because of personal problems with a certain Chelsea and England centre-half but towards the back end of this season he has played a lot of football and appears to have come through it relatively unscathed whilst having produced some very decent performances.

 

For me, Ferdinand is a must for England’s Euros squad if his fitness stays in-tact up until the end of the domestic season and Hodgson’s first press conference a the national team manager suggested that he believes so too and that he must act in order to ascertain whether he and Terry can put aside any personal qualms they might have about playing with one another. Both men would make my England starting line-up still and I think Mr.Hodgson is on the same wavelength as me on this. If Rio is willing to be paired with JT then he will go, I’m not totally sure this would have been the case if other potential candidates for the job were appointed.

 

Bobby Zamora

 

He may be embroiled in a relegation dogfight with his new club QPR and he may be suffering a bit of a lean season in front of goal but Zamora, who Fabio Capello says only missed out on the World Cup squad in 2010 due to injury, may come into the selection reckoning now his former boss is in charge of assembling England’s squad.

 

England are looking bereft of out-and-out strikers in the absence of Rooney for their opening two games at the Euros and the potential absence of Darren Bent due to injury so there are definitely at least a couple of places up for grabs in that department.

 

Zamora is one of only a few options to fill such a void if Bent doesn’t make the plane and his record in Fulham’s outstanding Europa League campaign under Hodgson’s guidance a couple of years ago would certainly hold him in good stead. I don’t think many other managerial candidates for the England job would have given Zamora a second look but Roy certainly will and I would perhaps go as far as to say he has a good shout of bagging himself a place.

 

Ben Foster

 

Though there have been some reports to the contrary, Roy Hodgson’s appointment could well convince Ben Foster to change his mind and come out of international retirement at least for the forthcoming European Championships.

 

Foster is probably the second best English goalkeeper going at the moment and if Joe Hart were to suffer an injury then it is vital that England have the next best man available to step into the breach.

 

If anybody has a chance of getting him to come back then it is almost certainly Hodgson who has been his manager at West Brom this year and who has consistently picked Foster and praised his contributions between the sticks. I would be very surprised if Roy hasn’t already or isn’t planning on talking to Foster about a return to the international game.

 

 

The Losers:

 

Harry Redknapp (obviously…)

 

There is very little to say that hasn’t already been said about Harry missing out on the job so I’ll keep it brief.

 

I think Redknapp could have been a terrific manager for England but now he will never get the chance and he knows it. In typical Harry fashion he has taken the news in good grace and congratulated Hodgson on getting the job and wished him well in his future endeavours with the national side.

 

If you look at England’s two most successful managers of the modern-ish era (Bobby Robson and Terry Venables) and the way they handled the job and the players that came with it you would have to credit them for their fantastic people-skills and man-management. They were/are massive characters with a very honest and likeable persona and it would be more than fair to say that Harry Redknapp seems to be a man after their own hearts in this respect. His strengths might not lie in financial management or tactical plotting but it is arguable that the England job requires a more personal approach than such methodology. I am sure that Redknapp would have brought back some memories of the Venables era and that he could have had just as positive an effect on the squad as El Tel but now we’ll never know.

 

Paul Scholes and England

 

If Harry Redknapp had been given the job then I am near-certain that he would have approached Paul Scholes about returning for one last month of international football. I also, happen to think that Harry is one of a very small minority of people who could have worked their charm on Scholes and lured him back into the fold.

 

As it is though, Hodgson is a little more straight-laced than Harry (make that a lot…) and as such I can’t see him pleading with a 37 year old to come back and save his country and even if he does then I don’t think he will have the pulling power necessary to tempt United’s flame-haired playmaker into a return.

 

If Scholes doesn’t come back I can’t see England winning the Euros. With him in tow they are dark horses given their relative lack of international success which could see them go under the radar but without him I think they are big outsiders. If you are going to compete with the likes of Spain and Germany then possession and pass success percentages become utterly vital. I don’t think there is a single player in Britain who can still mix it with Scholes in this department when playing at the highest level and I don’t think there are many people out there who would disagree with me.

 

I’m not suggesting that he is a miracle cure. We could also bomb in the Euros even if he does get persuaded to join up with the squad but I think his inclusion would greatly enhance our prospects.

 

Andy Carroll, Peter Crouch, Jermain Defoe, Grant Holt and any other striker hoping to make the cut

 

As a direct result of Bobby Zamora’s likely rise up the pecking order in the wake of Roy’s appointment, I think that many other hopefuls in the striking department may have just dropped down the list of potential squad-members.

 

Each of the above have a decent argument in their favour and it will be interesting to see if Hodgson is tempted by the prospect of linking back up with his former Fulham star or whether he favours another option.

 

Spurs’ potential squad-members (Jermain Defoe, Aaron Lennon, Kyle Walker, Ledley King, Michael Dawson…)

 

With Harry Redknapp being the overwhelming favourite to land the job before the announcement that the FA had opened talks with Hodgson, all of Spurs’ England hopefuls will have been buoyed by the news that their club manager could take the England job as it would probably have raised their chances of making the Euros.

 

However, now Roy is in charge and not Harry it is far from clear as to whether any of these players will be a part of the new manager’s plans. The only player mentioned from Spurs’ long line of England hopefuls who is almost guaranteed of a place in the England squad is Kyle Walker and one would think even his hopes have been dealt a blow in that Redknapp would very possibly have given him a starting berth. Hodgson may also really rate Walker and his Spurs team-mates but this appointment makes things a little less clear for now at least.

Why Carroll’s signs of life might just have come at the right time for England

With about a month-and-a-half until the start of the Euros we are now well immersed in the stage of the domestic season where all England hopefuls will be having their form, fitness and availability being monitored by all the England back-room staff as well as all football fans up and down the country.

Such focus has recently been targeted at the likes of Jack Wilshere who is still yet to play a game of football this season due to injury, Paul Scholes who many would like to see convinced out of retirement, and young Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who’s increased involvement in Arsenal’s first team at the start of 2012 has prompted calls for his inclusion as something of a wildcard or joker in the pack.

Andy Carroll winning goal

Carroll has enjoyed a good week in stark contrast to the majority of his time on Merseyside

One man though whose name has featured very little in recent times in terms of his chances of making England’s squad is Andy Carroll.

Liverpool’s number 9 has become a bit of a forgotten man in terms of his short-term England prospects and instead the focus of many back pages throughout his fifteen months at Liverpool has sadly, for him and for England, been on him lacking fitness, sharpness and the previously witnessed potency and threat in front of goal.

However, if the past week is anything to go by then maybe, just maybe Carroll’s confidence is on the up and we may have witnessed his long-term return to goalscoring form. I don’t intend to get carried away about a man who has indeed missed golden chances as well as scoring the winning goals in the last couple of games for Liverpool but it will certainly have done a world of good for him to have gone out and grabbed a couple of positive headlines for a change.

If this is to be the case and Carroll’s fortunes do take a long-overdue upturn then not only is it great news for Liverpool and himself but it could also be a major plus for the national side who at the moment are left bereft of any certain-picks for their striking department at the Euros.

Generally speaking, England tend to take four strikers out of a complete squad of twenty three players for major tournaments and at present it is very unclear just who will or who can force their way in.

Wayne Rooney is the pick of the English strikers but is suspended for the first two games of the tournament and Darren Bent who would be a near certainty if fit is out with a broken ankle and it seems as though he will miss out. So, what this means for England and those with the responsibility of assembling their squad for this summer’s tournament is that they are left with one hell of a selection dilemma.

Assuming that Rooney will be taken in spite of his suspension and that Bent will probably not recover from injury in time, there is three slots to fill in England’s striking contingent and it seems likely that the young, lively and versatile pair of Danny Welbeck and Daniel Sturridge will both make the cut off the back of their strong seasons and their recent inclusion in England squads.

If the predictable happens and the aforementioned three players make the grade then that would leave just the one remaining spot to fill but one would argue that nobody else has really demanded selection for this final place.

The remaining contenders for selection are probably Peter “I have a great International goal-scoring record” Crouch, Jermain “I too have a half-decent International record” Defoe, Bobby ‘currently experiencing a goal-drought’ Zamora, Grant “Am I really in with a shout?” Holt and the big man himself, Andy ‘Hasn’t been able to hit a cow’s backside with a banjo for over a year’ Carroll.

Each of the above have a decent argument in their favour; Crouch really does have a fantastic International goal-scoring reputation and has been leading the line pretty well for Stoke. Defoe has a good amount of International experience and has managed 10 Premier League goals so far this season in spite of a lack of game-time.  Zamora was unlucky to miss out with injury at the 2010 World Cup when Fabio Capello says he would have taken him if he were fit and has scored a decent amount of European and Premier League goals prior to his rather baron past couple of months at new club QPR. Holt, who would be a real wildcard choice, has forced himself into some people’s favour for selection with an impressive goals return in his first season as a Premier League striker, and though he may not be experienced at the very highest level of football it is arguable that no one would be more appreciative of being selected.

And finally there is my point of focus, Andy Carroll, who is England’s only real ‘classic centre-forward’ who has experienced and looked comfortable in his tastes of full-International football and throughout his apprenticeship in the under-21’s setup.

In the absence of a line-leader for the first two games at the Euros while Rooney is left to stew on his petulance on ‘that night in Montenegro’ I think the squad is calling out for a Carroll-esque figure and if he can build on his two match-winning goals this past week in the red of Liverpool then surely he must be back on the radar.

His major competition if the powers-that-be decide to take a ‘big man’ is Peter Crouch and if I were charged with the decision of who to take to Poland and Ukraine then I think I would certainly consider opting for Carroll as I think he is a more rounded talent.

Crouch has experience and goals at the highest level on his side but Carroll has added strength, youth and the motivation of quashing those in the media and in the stands at Premier League grounds country-wide that have been baying for his blood over the past year.

Alternatively, it might even be worth considering taking both on the grounds that England are likely to go into the tournament having selected an initially suspended striker and two other strikers in Welbeck and Sturridge who would be able to provide cover out wide if the option of extra wide-men was turned down in favour of bolstering the strike-force.

One thing that is certain is that with little time remaining there is certainly still plenty to ponder for whoever is going to take England out on the continent this summer and there is still time to stake a claim for a place in the final 23. Andy Carroll is one of many with much still to prove but he is definitely still worth a second-look.

Newcastle’s revolving door casts a cloud over their recent successes

The Toon Army have been put through more than most football fans

Living on the periphery of Newcastle teaches you a thing or two about how the locals look upon their duty to support their football club. Often their fervent support is referred to as a religion, but in truth it is more like an occupation. It is a job that they love, a job that they are immensely passionate about, but ultimately a job that causes them an immense amount of stress and torment.

This stress has become an infamous part of their relationship with the club in recent times, but after years of managerial departures and arrivals, boardroom unrest, relegation, and promotion it seems that the club has finally found some peace. However, while the Newcastle fans are on the crest of a wave, there still remains an unmistakeable sense of caution.

The reason for such tentativeness at present is presumably down to the perpetual rumours surrounding the futures of their star players and their manager who’s stock has risen enormously since he came to the club. In the wake of a summer that saw them lose three of their best players (Luis Enrique, Kevin Nolan and Joey Barton) for a combined fee of around £10 million, Newcastle’s fans are justifiably concerned about the buy in and sell on culture that appears to be developing at the club.

Carroll has struggled for form since his astronomically expensive transfer

Couple these high profile losses with the departure of local lad Andy Carroll, who at the time was considered one of the hottest young properties in English football and things do appear a little anti-progressional. To sell on four of your finest assets in just over half a year, with three of them going relatively ‘on the cheap’, doesn’t exactly reek of ambition.

However, Newcastle have re-generated from within as well as investing wisely in order to move up a level from last season. Some of the players who were already on the books prior to the departure of their former protagonists, such as Cheikh Tiote, Tim Krul and current skipper Fabricio Coloccini, have all excelled in the club’s magnificent season to date. In addition to this, Demba Ba (a free summer signing) and Yohan Cabaye (another astute buy) have been of paramount importance to the Toon’s brilliant spell.

The combination of internal progression and the successful integration of newly acquired talent has guided Newcastle as far as the quarter finals of the Carling Cup, the forthcoming 4th Round of the FA Cup, and most importantly 7th place in the Premier League. Though there is a long way to go yet, it does seem that this season will go down as a huge success for a club that are theoretically still in recovery mode following their shock relegation to the Championship just three years ago.

With the wounds of this footballing atrocity for the City of Newcastle still so raw, it is easy to comprehend their tempered excitement at the moment. They have dealt magnificently with the loss of several star players and have managed to fill the voids thus far without breaking the bank. How long though can this method of recycling keep pushing the club forward?

Just imagine if Demba Ba, Hatem Ben Arfa, Cheick Tiote, Yohan Cabaye, Fabricio Coloccini and Tim Krul all decided that they wanted to move to stronger footballing and financial institutions. What would this do to the club?

Sure, they would get a decent chunk of money for such a group of talented players, but up to this point Mike Ashley hasn’t exactly delivered on his promises to re-invest all the money brought in from previous outgoings.

If this trend of buying cheap, selling big and not re-investing the profit continues then surely there is only so far the club will go in near future. At present the team are performing out of their skins and their scouting network are producing an impressive success rate, but you would forgive the Toon Army if they were harbouring some residual doubt and apprehension about the pattern emerging at the club.

The revolving door seems to still be in motion at St.James’ with rumours of high profile departures, but if they do want to hold on to their star players then I suggest they try and keep them sweet. May I suggest a new contract for Demba Ba that doesn’t have a paltry release clause and that includes a strawberry syrup reward-per-goal (see the now infamous Ba interview with Sky Sports’ Geoff Shreeves).

Pardew’s Lesson In Anger Management

Who would have bet on Newcastle battling out in the top four come late October? Not many people I can assure you, but alas it is the predicament they find themselves in at the moment and as a result of their rather surprise return to prominence Tyneside is buzzing with enthusiasm.

It is probably far too early to suggest that they can maintain such a strong challenge all season, but hopes are high that the Toon can force themselves into contention for a Europa league place with their early charge. To bring the glory days of European football back to St.James’ park must be the ultimate aim of their much maligned owner Mike Ashley and the man he placed in charge of the club almost a year ago.

Under Ashley’s ownership Alan Pardew endured a rather hostile beginning to his reign as Manager. Having been named the man to replace the very popular Chris Hughton he was immediately met with uncertainty and an air of disillusionment from the fans.

Hughton before him had successfully guided the side back to the Premier League and had safely seen them to a mid-season position of mid-table solidity. Sitting comfortably in the middle of the league table may not exactly be awe-inspiring, but the security that comes with it was exactly what the football club and it’s fans had been craving. Sadly for Hughton, Mike Ashley was one of the only people associated with the club that weren’t contented by this and saw fit to relieve him of his duties.

This unsurprisingly called Ashley’s loyalty and decision making into question. He was once again lambasted by the press and the club’s fans for his actions. Rather unfairly his new man at the helm, Alan Pardew, then had to assume the unenviable position of being one of the faces of what was at the time seen as negative change.

Not only had Pardew been asked to take on the role of living up to Hughton’s great record at the club, but he was soon fighting fires on the media frontline amidst the Andy Carroll transfer saga on January ‘Deadline Day’. If he was unsure before he took the role just how passionate the club’s fans were, then he was left in little doubt after this tough early period. The fans were angry and disillusioned with events that were unfolding before their eyes and Pardew was one of a few major channels for their understandable angst.

In spite of the sale of their talismanic striker, Newcastle continued to impress in the second half of the season and ultimately Pardew had maintained their mid-table position right up to the season’s finish. Having managed to pick up some admirers along the way, the first few months of his reign had gone just about as well as could be hoped.

However, Pardew’s role as a figure head for the club led to further personal strife as the powers that be decided to part company with three other key members of his first XI. Skipper Kevin Nolan, the perpetually controversial Joey Barton and classy left back Jose Enrique were all allowed to leave either on free transfers or for relatively small fees, which again calling into question the ambition of the club.

Fans were once again left fraught with nerves going into this season having sold big and seemingly failed to bring in proven quality. As it turns out though, such caution and worry was rather unnecessary. Pardew has thus far led the club with admirable dignity and at present has them in the mix fighting for genuine success. How he has managed to lead this current squad to where they currently reside is unclear really, but he is worthy of high praise for his achievements to date.

Amidst the worries about a lack of depth and real star quality, the likes of the previously rather unknown Yohan Cabaye have stood tall since joining the club in a low-profile summer deal. Cabaye has looked every bit a top class Premier League performer since his move, demonstrating great fight and tenacity coupled with a decent passing range. Fellow summer signing Demba Ba has also played his way to the forefront of Newcastle’s early assault on the top of the table with a surprisingly decent goal tally.

While the low-key signings have exceeded the expectations of many, so too have the players who were already on the books. In midifeld Cheik Tiote has continued to build upon an encouraging first season in the Premier League and has been supported by the efforts of ‘local lad done good’ Steven Taylor and new Skipper Fabricio Coloccini at the back. With their less celebrated players too coming out of the shadows it is little surprise that optimism appears to be creeping back into the stands at St.James’.

On Thursday evening BBC Newcastle’s radio show ‘Total Sport’ featured an hour long phone-in with Alan Pardew and his time in the studio provided interesting insight into his rather surprising success so far. Pardew insisted that his strength as a manager is “getting the best out of players” citing the likes of Marlon Harewood and Anton Ferdinand as past successes under his tutelage.

Another moment of intrigue in the phone-in came when the presenters asked Pardew “how [he had] convince[d] Ashley to give [him] the job”. Pardew answered “I convinced him that I could bring success”. Exactly what success is to Ashley is a little unclear given his decision to release Chris Hughton when the overwhelming majority of the footballing world struggled to see why, but this answer from Pardew tells you a lot about the man.

He is humble and was willing to offer sympathy to Hughton who he said had done a “top job” for Newcastle, but he is also immensely optimistic and confident in his ability as a manager. Many have expressed an opinion that Pardew has had some hard luck in management, but he himself seems far more interested on his future endeavours and how he can continue to take the club forward.

I must admit that I was expecting Newcastle to struggle this season, as were many I might add. Pardew though has always impressed me. I agree with the many people who think he has at times been dealt a rough hand, particularly given his role in returning West Ham to the league and then to a showpiece game against Liverpool in the FA Cup final, which by the way, they were very unlucky to lose.

Maybe, just maybe, Newcastle have managed to offload the likes of Barton and Nolan at the right time and if Tiote and Cabaye can continue to inspire the side all the way to European contention come May then Pardew will have worked a minor miracle. If this is to happen then they will need to continue to make hay in the ‘easier’ games and strengthen their attacking and defensive options in January, but if they do this there is no reason why they and their Manager can’t continue to surprise a few people.

England’s youth and fringe to the forefront

This week England battled back from an early deficit to defeat a decent Denmark side in their own backyard. A great deal of resilience was demonstrated by a seemingly thread-bare England side in the wake of the rather standard international week drop-outs.

Notable absentees were captain Rio Ferdinand, vice-captain Stephen Gerrard, Adam Johnson, Jermain Defoe and 35 million pound-man Andy Carroll. It was perhaps these absences that provided the much needed spark and motivation that was evident in England’s approach to the match.

Start of something special?

It was as is often the case in international friendly matches, a chance for the youth and fringe players to impress, and that they did. Manger Fabio Capello handed Arsenal talent Jack Wilshere his full-debut and duly praised the youngster’s contributions in his post-match addresses. Though Wilshere was rather disappointingly withdrawn at half-time his replacement Scott Parker came on and impressed.

Parker has been omitted all too often given his consistency in club colours

Parker was referred to as one of the “unluckiest England players” of the current generation by ex-England international Paul Merson on Sky Sports’ punditry based coverage of the match. I for one also find it hard to believe that a player of Parker’s character and technical ability has only made four caps for his country. He is a player I admire greatly and I think he is more than deserving of a run in the side. His performance of great commitment and control against Denmark will surely have earned him further opportunities in the role of England’s midfield linchpin.

Other fringe players and young talent also impressed having been given a run-out. None more so than Ashley Young who at half time replaced the seemingly still out-of-sorts Wayne Rooney. Young filled the void in behind Villa team-mate Darren Bent with great aplomb and  real attacking verve. His marauding runs caused the opposition serious problems all half and he was fittingly rewarded by scoring the winning goal, his first in international football.

So, was this encouraging display in a friendly the dawning of yet another era of failed promise or was it in fact the start of something a little special? We all hope that the latter  is true but the jury is certainly still out in force.

One thing certainly transpiring from the game is that England do indeed have strength-in-depth, England’s so-called ‘dead-certs’ in the line-up should no longer be considered to be so. We have young and hungry players coming through the production line in addition to more experienced and match-ready options like Scott Parker and Darren Bent, and it seems they are ready to take the step-up whenever called upon.

In summary, it was a good match, a strong performance and their was certainly some indication of a new and more committed era in English football. Let’s all cross our fingers now in unison.

My England XI: (4-2-3-1)

Joe Hart

Glen Johnson

Rio Ferdinand

John Terry

Ashley Cole

Parker

Gerrard

Walcott

Wilshere

Johnson

Rooney

Squad:

Foster, Robinson, Jagielka, Cahill, Baines, Bentley, Lampard, Milner, Young, Carroll, Defoe, Bent