Was Zlatan’s the best goal ever?

With only the odd speck of archive footage to rely on it would hardly be fair for me to judge on whether Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s stunning effort last night was the best goal of all time.

It wouldn’t however be too much of a stretch of the imagination to say that it was one of the very best of my lifetime.

Ibrahimovic

Zlatan’s performance and his wonder-strike last night were a shot in the eye for all his doubters

 

So, in honour of his outrageous effort in Sweden’s 4-2 win over England at their brand new Friends Arena I have put together a selection of clips of the best goals that I have ever witnessed.

So, sit back, relax, enjoy and make up your mind as to which you think is best…

First of all…. Here’s Zlatan!

Next up…. Wazza!

The next contender… Scholesy!

Carrrrloooossssss!!!

Don’t forget… Ronaldinho!

Zidaaaaannneee!!!

Can’t forget D-Becks!

Messsssiiiii!

Rooonnnnaaaalllddddoooooo (‘s goal that wasnn’t…)

and another from Ronny which did count…

Best penner ever?

Thierry Henryyyy!!!

Bergkamp!!

and another…

Giggsy!

Gus Poyet!!!

Neymarrrr!

Finally, some bloke from Glentoran…

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Premier League Summer Transfer Window XI

(Formation: 3-2-3-2)

Hazard Chelsea

Hazard has been the biggest money move of the window at the time of writing this post but he is already looking worth every penny

Goalkeeper:

Ben Foster: (Undisclosed)

He may not come across as a new signing to many having been on loan to the Baggies last season but Ben Foster has now signed a permanent deal with West Brom and he looks set to play a huge part in West Brom’s attempts to avoid a hangover period in the wake of former manager Roy Hodgson’s departure from the club.

Defence:

Nathaniel Clyne (Crystal Palace to Southampton – Compensation Not Yet Agreed)

He is very much a raw talent at present but Nathaniel Clyne has great potential. He burst onto the scene with Palace last year and I am surprised that a bigger club than Southampton weren’t tempted to have a punt on Clyne as he seems to have the strength, physique, speed and technical ability necessary to drive him on to become one the best full-backs in the country.

Jan Vertonghen: (Ajax to Spurs £10 million)

Vertonghen Tottenham

Can Jan be the perfect heir to Ledley’s throne?

It is early days for Vertonghen as a Premier League player but there was a great amount of interest in him from some very big clubs over the summer and Andre-Vilas Boas and Tottenham did very well to secure the signature of the Belgian in what appears to be a great bit of business. £10 million isn’t a great deal to pay for a top-class centre-half in the modern game and Spurs will hope that he can quickly become a very able replacement for Ledley King who sadly had to retire over the summer as a result of years of injury woe.

Jose Manuel Flores: (Genoa to Swansea £2 million)

Swansea’s charismatic new centre-half is well known to their new manager Michael Laudrup from their time together at Mallorca and his start at the club has been a very good one. Since his £2 million arrival he has been involved in back-to-back clean-sheets and has been a major part of the Swans’ great start to the campaign as they look to continue their reputation from last season as one of the Premier League’s meanest defences.

Midifeld:

Oscar: (Internacional to Chelsea £25 million)

A lot of South American players have struggled to adapt to life in the Premier League but given time and sufficient guidance I think Oscar will prove himself to be a huge hit for Chelsea. I don’t necessarily think he will get a huge amount of game time in the short-term but as a long-term prospect there are few better talents plying their trade in the Premier League. He has great movement on and off the ball and has a tremendous eye for a pass as his performances in the Olympic Games demonstrated and I think he’ll shine over the next few years if Chelsea can settle him into Premier League life.

Santi Cazorla: (Malaga to Arsenal £16 million)

He might not quite have come up with the necessary goods to land Arsenal their first win of the season in their opening two games but Cazorla already looks like he could be their best player this season as he possesses many of the qualities that they have been lacking since the departures of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri last summer. It is only because Spain have been blessed with probably the greatest group of midfielders that one country has ever possessed at one time that Cazorla hasn’t become a bigger name by now but he has still managed to amass a total of 46 international caps to date as well as 7 goals for his country and I think we will see this season why he is so highly thought of back in Spain.

Attacking Midfield:

Eden Hazard: (Lille to Chelsea £32 million)

He may only have made three Premier League appearances since moving to the Bridge but Chelsea’s new boy has already made six assists and scored a goal from the penalty spot. Having seen him struggle to assert himself in Belgium’s friendly against England before the start of Euro 2012 and then again in Chelsea’s Community Shield loss to Manchester City, many thought that in spite of his undoubted technical qualities that it might take Hazard a little while to settle into English football but he has firmly quashed any such thoughts with three outstanding displays straight off the bat in the Premier League. He looks like one hell of a player and Chelsea could be propelled back into title contention this season if his current form continues.

Shinji Kagawa: (Dortmund to Man Utd £12 million)

He might not have had quite the impact of Eden Hazard at Chelsea but Kagawa who operates in a similar position to the Belgian has already looked very assured as a Premier League player in his first couple of outings and in addition to having already opened his scoring account against Fulham at the weekend he has also been right at the heart of nearly all of United’s best forward play in their opening two games. Like I say, he might not have matched Hazard’s blistering form thus far but he did cost United £20 million less than the Belgian set Chelsea back and he too looks a great attacking midfield prospect.

Adam Johnson; (Man City to Sunderland £10 million)

I think this signing represents a fantastic bit of business for Sunderland. Not only is Johnson immensely talented but he already has a Premier League winners medal to his name, a smattering of England caps and already a couple of international goals to boot, so at £10 million he looks an absolute bargain by today’s premium on English talent. He is versatile and can operate strongly on either flank and with his combination of speed, skill, trickery, decent two-footed delivery and an eye for goal I expect him to play a huge part in Martin O’Neill’s plans this season. If Steven Fletcher is even half as lethal in front of goal as Martin O’Neill thinks he is then he will score a hat full this season with the likes of Johnson, Stephane Sessegnon and James McClean providing him with great servie from all angles.

Attack:

Robin Van Persie: (Arsenal to Man Utd £24 million)

RVP United

RVP has settled quickly into the OT limelight and is looking forward to proving any doubters wrong

Many have had their say on Van Persie’s summer move to Old Trafford and though some thought the £24 million transfer fee looked a little too grand for a player nearing his thirties and with only one year remaining on his contract at Arsenal but if anybody needed convincing that his acquisition was a great one for United then last weekend should have been sufficient. In a game which saw United’s talisman Wayne Rooney suffer a nasty injury which looks set to keep him out of the side for at least a month, Van Persie came up trumps netting a fine finish for his first goal for United in a narrow 3-2 win. The finish was exquisite and it was Van Persie’s very first shot in a United shirt. One shot, one goal, he is a lethal finisher and his signing puts United in great stead to challenge Manchester rivals City for the title.

Emmanuel Adebayor: (Man City to Spurs £5 million)

This comes within the the same bracket as Ben Foster’s move to West Brom in that this deal was a conversion from loan signing last season to a permanent transfer this summer and at a cost of just £5 million and with his hefty wages being subsidised by his former club this deal looks like a cracking bit of work by Daniel Levy. Adebayor is a proven scorer and assist-maker over several years at Premier League and Champions League level and if he can re-create anything like his contribution to Spurs’ cause last season then AVB will be delighted that they now have him as a more permanent fixture on their books.

Subs:

Cesar Azpilcueta: Chelsea’s punt on the young Spanish full-back looks like a good one as he has impressed in the French Ligue 1 and also with the Spanish youth side.

Joe Allen: £15 million seemed an inflated fee at the time and in spite of an MOTM performance against City it does still look a little hefty but Rodgers knew full-well what he was getting when he signed Allen and he has the potential to grow into one of Europe’s best possession-players. He could be the long overdue replacement for Xabi Alonso in Liverpool’s engine room.

Michu: Three goals in his first two Premier League starts means he has as good as repaid his £2 million fee already. The midfielder-come-striker looks well designed for the rigours and physicality of the Premier League and has shown that he is a quality finisher.

Moussa Dembele: The ex-Fulham man endured an injury blighted first few months in English football but since finding his feet he has grown ever stronger. He has gradually become accustomed to a deeper role in Fulham’s side having originally been signed as a front-man and the now midfielder has looked every bit worth his suspected £15 million transfer fee throughout the past year.

Matt Jarvis: Though I think his transfer fee is a little high for a man only about seventh or eighth in England’s pecking order of wide-men and for a man coming from a Championship side, Jarvis has demonstrated over the past couple of seasons just how decent a Premier League player he is. Last season he stood out from the crowd on Wolves’ sinking ship and he more than deserved his immediate return to the big-time, I’m sure he’ll be a big asset to West Ham.

Kevin Mirallas: He may only have been making his debut against lower-league opposition but he bagged his first two Everton goals with no time wasted at all and he looks an exciting prospect. I think Moyes might have pulled yet another managerial masterstroke with this lad.

Pavel Pogrebnyak: He is far from a glamour-signing in terms of his style of play but he is such a huge presence on the field and he has genuine goal-scoring ability at the highest levels of football. I think his signing was a major coup for Reading given the interest in him from all around Europe and I think his contributions could be the difference between Reading staying up and going down.

 

The best completed and potential deadline day signings:

Stephen M’Bia (QPR), Charlie Adam (Stoke), Maicon (Man City), Scott Sinclair (Man City), Joao Moutinho (Spurs), Clint Dempsey (Liverpool), Daniel Sturridge (Liverpool), Andre Shurlle (Chelsea), Michael Owen (Stoke/Everton), Dimitar Berbtov (Fulham), Michel Bastos (Fulham), Keiran Richardson (Fulham)…

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

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 Summer Sales: Benfica, Dortmund and Bilbao amongst those likely to pay for their success

As the summer draws closer and the vast majority of Europe’s domestic leagues are winding up for the summer break and the transfer window that comes with it, rumours are rife about who could go where and why they might seek pastures new.

It is the time of year when all sides who have either performed beyond their means or who have been outgrown by their leading lights fear the most as they head into the year’s most lengthy and protracted period of transfer-related vulnerability.

We have already seen clear examples of what this summer’s transfer window may have to offer as the Bundesliga’s relegation threatened Cologne have lost their talismanic local hero Lukas Podolski to Arsenal for what appears a bit of a bargain. Arsenal have also moved to try and avoid last season’s mad rush for recruits on deadline day by attempting to secure a deal for Yann M’Vila who is also fast becoming too big a fish in the small pond that is Rennes.

Podolski

Podolski has a fantastic international record

In addition to  players like Podolski and M’Vila shining at their clubs and attracting attention from ‘Big-Time’ clubs from around Europe, there are also whole clubs around Europe who may pay the price for their success and they could be set to lose multiple players over the forthcoming summer.

Benfica, having forced their way ahead of Porto in Portugal’s domestic pecking order for much of the Portugese league season and having entertained en-route to a place in the last eight of the Champions League are now surely set for a summer of fending off interest in their most-prized assets.

Gaitan impressed against United and will have attracted interest from SAF

Arguably the hottest property at the club is their versatile attacking midfielder Nicolas Gaitan who has attracted many potential suitors with his strong performances both in Portugal and in the Champions League. It is the creative talents of the 24 year-old Argentine which have earned himself a now regular slot in amongst Argentina’s rather special attacking contingent in the national squad and that have drawn interest from huge club’s like Manchester United who have been linked more closely with securing his services than any other side.

Another huge talent plying his trade at Benfica is Swiss international Axel Witsel who has this season emerged as one of Europe’s most talented and

Witsel has shone this season and a big club will surely come calling

combative central midfielders. His consistently strong and disruptive performances amongst Benfica’s talented midfield impressed has I’m sure impressed many scouts at the top European clubs, and perhaps never more so than in Benfica’s Champions League group games which resulted in them outdoing both Manchester United and FC Basle.

Benfica’s impressive displays this year may have gone some way towards re-building their reputation and improving their financial outlook but if they don’t manage to hold onto the likes of Gaitan and Witsel then it could well have cost them dear when it comes to the strength of their playing personnel.

Another club who could come under the radar of many of Europe’s top clubs are Borussia Dortmund who have for the second season running overcome Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga title race.

Shinji Kagawa

Kagawa and Gotze both look set to fly the nest at Dortmund

Already it is being said that Shinji Kagawa might have agreed a deal with Manchester United which would be a major loss for the German club and others may well follow him out of the door as Dortmund have failed to cash in on their domestic success with a strong return to European football.

Centre-backs Neven Subotic and Mats Hummels have both impressed greatly over the past couple of seasons and have also become key players in their respective national set-ups and it would be absolutely no surprise if Europe’s major forces tried to recruit either one of them.

The jewel in Dortmund’s crown though is Mario Gotze the diminutive, young attacking midfielder and he again is being linked with a move away having featured regularly in transfer talk throughout much of the past two years. If he were to part company with Dortmund it would perhaps be the greatest loss of them all as he is very much the golden boy at the German Champions and he is the very embodiment of all that has been positive about their re-emergence as a major force in German football.

Another side likely to be the subject of a lot of transfer attention are Athletic Bilbao who have won many admirers during their European adventures this season. Though their Europa League campaign ultimately ended in major disappointment when they lost 3-0 to fellow Spanish side Athletico Madrid, many of their young and talented squad have caught the eye of on-looking scouts and as they are a side struggling to break into La Liga’s upper echelons and into real contention to secure Champions League football they will surely lose a hold of some of their stars this summer.

Iker Muniain Javi Martinez

Bilbao have entertained in the Europa League

The two most sought after members of their squad would appear to be versatile holding-midfielder and captain Javi Martinez and their star striker Fernando Llorente both of whom were a part of Spain’s world cup winning squad in 2010.

Martinez, who has for a long time been linked with Real Madrid and Barcelona, has starred for Bilbao and has demonstrated great maturity in captaining a side who have impressed under his leadership in spite of his relatively tender age. Not often is one so young placed in such a position of responsibility at a football club but Martinez has led by example providing much of the thrust which has made his Bilbao side such a dynamic force this season. He may be reluctant to leave such a prominent and valued role at his boyhood club but he will also be aware that he must be playing Champions League football if he is to fulfil his ambitions of becoming a regular in Spain’s line-up.

The same can also be said of Llorente who’s sublime volley against Manchester United in the Europa League will live long in the memory. If his talents aren’t also taken onto the next level, which is surely regular Champions League football, then perhaps he will miss out on the opportunity to stay ahead of the likes of Fernando Torres in Spain’s pecking order.

It would be a surprise if Bilbao managed to hold on to both Martinez and Llorente in the wake of their hiccup in the final of the Europa League and their consequent failure to secure Champions League football for next season but perhaps they can be hopeful of holding onto another of their prodigious talents Iker Muniain who is maybe a step behind the likes of Martinez in terms of his development.

The diminutive forward has provided great support for Llorente over the course of this season and though Bilbao have the means to hold onto him for now it might well be beyond their power if he decides that he is already primed for a first crack at Champions League football. There will certainly be no shortage of sides willing to look into the possibility of tempting him away from the San Mames if he does want out so expect rumour a plenty about where his future might lie this summer.

A big factor in Bilbao’s attempts to hold onto their emerging stars could be whether they manage to hold onto their Coach Marcelo Bielsa who has a fine record since taking charge and could perhaps be on the hit list for many of Europe’s top clubs. The club’s directors will though be breathing a huge sigh of relief that Barcelona have turned to Tito Vilanova as Pep Guardiola’s successor as Bielsa was the name on everbody’s lips as soon as the job became seemingly up for grabs.

If Bilbao’s agonising shortcoming in trying to secure Champions League football hasn’t already proved enough for their skipper and other key players, then surely the loss of Bielsa would put the final nail in the coffin in terms of sealing their respective decisions to part company with the Basque club.

It is indeed sad for football that many emerging sides tend to lose the best of their playing crop every time they show any major signs of development and bridging the gap that lies between them and the more dominant clubs in Europe but that is the nature of the modern game. Money talks and so does the opportunity to play at a higher level on a more regular basis, so expect the likes of Benfica, Dortmund and Bilbao to pay for their success and have to fight valiantly in order to hold onto their most prized assets.

Other names to watch out for in this summer’s transfer market:

Radamel Falcao (Athletico Madrid), Hulk (Porto), Papiss Demba Cisse (Newcastle), Cheick Tiote (Newcastle), Eden Hazard (Lille), Loic Remy (Marseille), Gonzalo Higuain (Real Madrid), Dani Alves (Barcelona), Robin Van Persie (Arsenal), Ricky Van Wolfswinkel (Sporting Lisbon), Ola John (FC Twente), Luuk De Jong (FC Twente), Cristian Eriksen (Ajax) Gregory Van Der Wiel (Ajax), Leighton Baines (Everton), Stephane Sessegnon (Sunderland), Didier Drogba (Chelsea), Edinson Cavani (Napoli), Clint Dempsey (Fulham), Ezequiel Lavezzi (Napoli)

Transfer Window Watch: Cisse’s signing furthers the International appeal of Pardew’s Newcastle

Newcastle’s latest signing, Papiss Demba Cisse of Senegal, is the latest in a long line of potentially very astute purchases on Tyneside. It is a signing that is demonstrative of manager Alan Pardew’s ever-increasing ambitions to return Newcastle to the higher reaches of the Premier League and ultimately the excitement of high-end European football. This move is also suggestive of the Newcastle hierarchy’s own desire for progression and to quell any talk of them becoming a selling club that live to survive only upon their own financial incomings.

Newcastle's new no.9

Cisse’s arrival has also stirred up great excitement amongst the Toon Army who are relishing the prospect of him teaming up with compatriot and fellow striker Demba Ba, who has been a major hit on Tyneside since his summer move.

Couple this latest signal of intent with the array of international and diverse talent at Alan Pardew’s disposal and it appears Newcastle have the makings of an exciting and potentially very successful squad. Though it may seem premature to talk of them as a major Premier League force of the forthcoming years, they have performed with great confidence and assurance this season (with the exception of their second half collapse against Fulham) and deserve to be fighting it out with the likes of Arsenal and Liverpool. The assembly of a rather cosmopolitan squad including a decent English contingent has seen Newcastle develop tremendously in recent months and is perhaps comparable to the early era of Arsenal under Arsene Wenger’s tutelage.

Wenger’s early Arsenal sides were founded upon a stern defence with a major English influence, a hard-nosed French partnership in the middle of midfield and an array of pacy international options in the advanced roles. Upon these foundations Wenger then widened the net a little and over his years at Arsenal he has looked in depth at bringing in African talent such as Nwankwo Kanu, Lauren, Kolo Toure, Emmanuel Eboue, Emmanuel Adebayor, Alex Song and Gervinho. The similarities between his transfer targets whilst at Arsenal and those of Newcastle in recent times are apparent.

There appears to be similarities between Wenger and Pardew's transfer policies

Newcastle’s defensive unit is currently comprised of a Dutch first-choice keeper, English options in either full-back position and a further two competing for a central berth, a prodigiously talented if unproven Brazilian full-back and a hugely experienced Argentinian international leading the side from centre-half.

Tim Krul in goal has been the recipient of an enormous amount of praise for his performances over the past year having been thrust into the limelight by Chris Hughton and he has been very ably supported by those  in front of him. Newcastle’s defence has been lauded as the key to their increased success since their relegation to the Championship in 2009, and skipper Fabricio Coloccini has marshalled the defensive unit with exemplary leadership.

The diverse and international appeal of Newcastle’s current set-up also extends to the more advanced areas of the field. Take their midfield options which now boast an impressive global appeal, including three young French talents, an Ivory Coast international, an experienced Argentinian wide man and a couple of decent English options to boot.

Tiote and Cabaye have excelled since Pardew brought them together in midfield

Their key performers in the central midfield area, Cheick Tiote and Yohan Cabaye, have been superb so far this season since the alarming departures of Kevin Nolan and Joey Barton. One might even go as far as to say that they could grace any Premier League side’s starting XI, given their contribution to date.

With this wealth of international options in midfield and Cisse and Ba now in place as their potentially lethal strike force, Newcastle must be looking forward with enormous anticipation.

Their comparably multi-national make-up to the Arsenal squads throughout Wenger’s successful era really bodes well for the club as they embark upon what they hope will prove to be a period of accelerated development which could once again see them dining at the top table.

City hit sorry United for 6, As the big-boys continue the goal-glut

Once upon a time there were four managers and their names were Ferguson, Mourinho, Wenger and Benitez. These four super-powers of the game were in charge of the top four sides from England’s premiere football division and they were the envy of most managers in the world. There stay of success in English football meant that year on year they were qualifying for the Champion’s League and winning domestic trophies accumulating precious money along the way. Whilst many clubs in England and around the world were struggling financially, these four clubs were thriving and as a result they were empowered with the ability to buy the best talent from around the world in the quest to assemble the strongest squad’s in world football.

Aside from the domestic and European domination that these clubs enjoyed the other enduring memory for me from this era of the Premier League is that of the four club’s head-to-head fixtures. The excitement and tension surrounding the build-up to these fixtures were tangible. The fans knew full well that the sides were all well matched and immensely competitive and with this came the knowledge that their sides were just as likely (if not more) to lose or draw the match as they were to win.

With their respective club’s being so well matched the manager’s developed fierce rivalries. Their underlying mutual respect for one another fired their ambitions and hopes of getting one over on each other and not one of them shirked the challenge. Not one of them were short on confidence. Each of them were immensely confident in their team’s and their own ability and it made for a brilliant side show to the main attraction of the matches themselves.

This burning desire not to be embarrassed by their challengers was perhaps what led to the matches being so tight and generally low-scoring. It seemed that the managers’ intense rivalries rubbed off on their players and as such the matches bristled with tension, mind-games and a fierce undertone. Where the players could get away with small niggling indisciplines they did and more often than not the games were fractious affairs. Perhaps it is arguable that the nature of these games detracted not from the defensive qualities of the club’s but their attacking brilliance, which was such a factor in their overwhelming of lesser sides.

I don’t mean to dumb down the magic in these fixtures with stories of negativity, but in these years the big games were captivating rather than thrilling. They were based far more on ebbs and flows than they were upon roller coaster rides, but they were brilliant nonetheless. Maybe not beautiful, but brillant, and more often than not decided by moments of inspiration. Sure it would have been nice to get the odd 4-3 thriller and maybe there were a few too many 0-0 and 1-1 draws but that just served to demonstrate the equality of effort and strain being put into these games by all the sides.

The reason for such nostalgia is this current season’s own take on the big matches and the stark contrast to the aforementioned era of Premier League football. This season’s head-to-heads between the so called ‘title contenders’ have been a world away from the older days with goals galore caused by an amalgomation of brilliant, fluid attacking play and some quite frankly rotten defending.

The latest example in the series of open games between the Premier League’s finest was that of Manchester City’s romping 6-1 victory over Champions Manchester United in their own backyard. Though full credit must go to City for their attitude towards at first eleven United players and then later the ten remaining opponents following Jonny Evans’ dismissal. Mario Ballotelli, as frustrating as he can sometimes be, was terrific. His combination of strength, pace and self-belief scared United into submission at times and for me he was the focal point of City’s glorious day, the sort of day that may well have made Sir Alex question why he is still managing a football team.

This isn’t to say that Sir Alex should have packed it in, he is still a marvellous manager, but it really was a horror show and one which would have made any self-respecting Manager question them self. United’s early territory threatened to overwhelm City and Ashley Young looked set to further endear himself to the Old Trafford faithful with a buccaneering wing display but as soon as Ballotelli bagged the opener with great craft United’s challenge fizzled out. Scoring so simply against the run of play inspired City to drive on knowing that they had safely navigated their way through the early torment and come out on top. From this point on City were unrelenting and United pathetic. Few occasions in Sir Alex’s epically long tenure have been so hideous. A few games come to mind though namely the 5-0 defeat to Newcastle (which is celebrating it’s anniversary in Geordie-land this week), the 5-0 loss to Chelsea about a decade ago, and the humiliating 4-1 defeat to Middlesbrough that sparked Roy Keane’s acrimonious departure from the club. It is a staggering scoreline reflective of United’s suicidal attitude throughout the match, and was just the latest feather in the Premier League’s goal-rush cap when it comes to the top of the table clashes.

Accompanying this unthinkable result have been United’s comical 8-2 win over Arsenal, United’s 3-1 win over Chelsea (which Ferguson said could honestly have finished “13-12”), United’s 4-0 thrashing of Spurs and City’s own thrashing of Spurs by 5 goals to 1. It is incredible to think that this Premier League season still hasn’t even seen November and that it has already produced so many title-contending clashes played out like basketball matches.

Maybe it is just the new breed of manager’s at the top clubs that are responsible for such results, after all the likes of Harry Redknapp in charge of Spurs are famed for playing football in the spirit of “avin’ a go”. I believe thought that there are two equally if not more significant factors. The first of these maybe that the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United have had the honour of facing up to the current Barcelona side and have realised that their only chance of unsettling them is to attack them and put them out of their comfort zone. Last season alone both Arsenal and Manchester United were denied the opportunity of European glory by Barca, and the pick of the confrontations was Arsenal’s gutsy fightback to beat Barca 2-1 at the Emirates.

Having begun the game on the back foot and trying to soak up the Catalan pressure they found themselves trailing by a goal to nil and being run ragged. However, the second half saw Wenger’s men take Barcelona on at their own game and they managed to reap huge rewards for their courageousness. Though they failed to back the win up with progression to the next round, they provided the greatest indication yet that the way to stop the seemingly irrepressible Catalan’s is to play on the front foot and take the game to them. Perhaps then this is the motivation for the top English clubs’ seeming desire to express themselves in big matches, perhaps they are honing in on tactics that they believe could return them to the peak of the European game.

The second, and arguably most logical reason is that the goal-glut has been caused by the increased competition for places at the top of the Premier League. With 6 teams realistically vying for Champions League qualification there are now fewer ‘easy’ games. As a result the big teams are no longer able to store up their fitness, composure and defensive strength for stand-out ties whilst cutting loose in the less demanding fixtures. More games are tough games now, and more games are able to have a genuine say in the title shake up and as such the teams are encouraged to play with similar freedom regardless of the opposition.

Whatever the reason, I certainly hope that the gluttony for goalscoring is a recurring theme in the Premier League’s glamour ties (though as a United fan I’d probably rather avoid 6-1 home defeats to our fiercest rivals). The old days of the Premier League were just as great, but not quite as hair-raising and exciting. The new breed of title-chasing sides are geared to continue in the same vein as they have done thus far this season, and if they do then we could be in for a hell of a ride!

Arsenal the Headline Act on Deadline Day

Another transfer window has come and passed and though they left it very late indeed Arsenal have finally made strides towards replacing Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri. Last weekend’s 8-2 humiliation against Manchester United left manager Arsene Wenger with little to no choice, but he has acted boldly on deadline day in order to secure five major signings which should go some way towards appeasing their fans.

The first confirmed signing was that of South Korea captain Park Chu-Yong. Though many will not know much about this acquisition he is captain of his country and having impressed up-front for Monaco he was subject to much interest in the transfer market and not just from Arsenal. French champions Lille were also in for Arsenal’s new man and Wenger will be pleased to have strengthened his attacking ranks.

The next addition to Arsenal’s squad was Fenerbahce’s Andre Santos. The Brazilian international left-back seems to be a promising addition to Wenger’s ranks having played over twenty times for his country. At Fenerbahce he has experienced Champions League football and has proved his ability to demonstrate attacking prowess from defence, scoring at a rate of a goal every five games. Santos looks set to provide able support and competition for promising young English prospect Kieran Gibbs.

Mertesacker should provide great experience an leadership

Third in on deadline day was the immensely experienced Per Mertesacker from Werder Bremen. The German centre-back has impressed at the very highest level in over seventy international caps and I believe he is a great coup for Arsenal. Not only has he made significant strides in international football, but he also has superb domestic experience having played Champions League football for Bremen and having captained the club. Arsenal’s young and rather frail squad are in dire need of leaders and Mertesacker should be able to settle in very quickly given his background and will provide great support to new Captain Robin Van Persie in the leadership stakes.

Arsenal’s fourth and fifth major signings really did push the transfer deadline to it’s full limit, but both were immensely important deals for the club. First they signed the experienced Israeli attacking midfielder Yossi Benayoun from Chelsea on loan, which I think is a very astute signing. Having become rather surplus to requirements at Stamford Bridge Benayoun who has consistently delivered at Premier League level is a tidy addition to Wenger’s squad and he provides a wealth of international and Champions League experience.

Arteta stole the headlines at the Emirates

The second of Arsenal’s last minute deals is perhaps their most significant signing of the summer. To have signed Mikel Arteta from Everton is a real show of intent from Wenger and it is the sort of deal which will excite Arsenal fans. Arteta has demonstrated real class in his time at Everton, his fine range of passing and eye for goal should set the Emirates alight and at 10 million he is near guaranteed to be value for money. Many sceptics will say that he is not up to the standard of the departed Fabregas and Nasri, but the painful truth is that not many attacking midfielders are. The loss of these two players will continue to leave a gaping hole in terms of world class talent at the Emirates, but Arteta and Benayoun are both very good players and could well go on to be top players for the club.

Other news coming out of Arsenal included the departure of Nicklas Bendtner on loan to Sunderland for the season and Henri Lansbury’s loan move to West Ham. It was a day of immense importance for Arsenal and the status of their under fire manager and they did at least go some way towards repairing their turmoil-stricken squad. It seems outrageous that they would leave it this late to move for major reinforcements given the inevitability of Fabregas and Nasri’s departures, but the general consensus coming of the club’s followers seems to be something along the lines of better late than never. Only time will tell just how important today’s signings will be for Arsenal but on paper it seems that they have bought in a calibre of player that should see them rising up the table and at least competing for European places.

Other big players on deadline day included Arsenal’s bitter rivals Tottenham. Though they only managed to land the brilliant Scott Parker on the final day of the window, they did manage to sell big in order to reduce their wage bill. Departures from White Hart Lane were Peter Crouch, Wilson Palacios, David Bentley, Jermaine Jenas and Alan Hutton, all of whom fetched reasonable fees which should boost Tottenham’s chances of landing significant new signings come January.

Against all the odds Gary Cahill remained a Bolton Wanderers player

Probably the biggest news of the day for Tottenham on deadline day came in the form on two failed deals. On one hand they managed to cling on desperately to their star player Luka Modric, but on the other they missed out on bringing in the outstanding Gary Cahill from Bolton. It was only on the day that Spurs emerged as huge favourites to land Cahill but up until the evening it seemed as though it was a goer. Sadly though for Harry Redknapp Bolton managed to keep a hold of their star player due to differing valuations of the England international.

Another London club QPR were also very active prior to the closing of the summer transfer window. Shaun Wright-Philips became their first major signing of the day and he was followed through the door by Anton

Warnock will be pleased with his late deals

Ferdinand of Sunderland. These two signings coupled with the recent capture of Joey Barton demonstrates their new owners ambition to keep QPR in the Premier League upon their return to the top flight.

Other top deals on deadline day included Raul Meireles to Chelsea, Peter Crouch and Wilson Palacios to Stoke, Joe Cole to Lille on loan, Owen Hargreaves to Manchester City, Scott Dann and Cameron Jerome’s Birmingham exits to Blackburn and Stoke and Craig Bellamy’s sensational return to Liverpool.

In conclusion then, it was another high-drama day of transfer dealings on the 31st of August but perhaps it was lacking the glamour signings provided by the imminent closure of previous transfer windows. Headline act Arsenal have indeed landed some important deals, but their fans will be left feeling strangely deflated. Though they managed to make significant moves in the last twenty four hours it is hard to see how their additions can inspire them to challenge for Champions League qualification. Wenger must for once accept that this is a year of transition and development, his big names have gone and for now they must be forgotten.

Can England’s elite take financial strides to try and match Barca’s brilliance?

Big Summer in Prospect for England’s Elite:

With Barcelona’s demolition of Manchester United last week resonating through the footballing world, Europe’s top clubs will certainly be feeling the need to improve their ranks. It may seem unrealistic that any team can invest and bring in anyone of the level of genius which graced the hallowed turf of Wembley last week, but that shouldn’t stop the British clubs assault on the transfer market this summer. The topsy-turvy nature of events in the Premier League this season means that any one of six teams will be going in to the new season with dreams of winning the title. I will consider the chances of each of the four most prominent contenders and weigh up their potential movement in the forthcoming transfer window.

Arsenal:

The events over the closing weeks of the season will have seen manager Arsene Wenger sick to the very pit of his stomach. The enthusiasm and verve present amongst his team of young stars for much of the season simply appeared to fizzle out, and with it their chances of silverware were lost without a trace. The moment which encapsulated all the frustration of their campaign was the late winner scored by Birmingham City in the Carling Cup final. Having gone without any silverware for several years, to then go and throw away a lead in a cup final against a side who went on to be relegated from the Premier League is beyond disappointing. It is criminal, absolutely criminal. Not only did this moment of footballing agony demonstrate a lack of nerve but it also highlighted their need for an experienced and imperious central defensive pairing and a top quality goalkeeper.

In terms of goalkeepers they have plenty of options, though the experienced ones would probably prove to be the wisest investments. I believe the man they should target is Shay Given. He is a fantastic shot-stopper who has experience at the highest levels of international football and european club football, all the attributes of a fantastic keeper. This is a transfer which could very feasibly happen as Wenger is rumoured to be a long-time admirer of the Irishman and he has been rather frozen out at Manchester City this season.

In addition to a keeper it is very important that Wenger breaks his own policy of only investing in youth and invests in a battle-hardened experienced centre back that preferably has premiership experience. A good buy would be Chris Samba of Blackburn Rovers who has been immense this season and has shone above the turmoil at the club and their battles against relegation. He wouldn’t cost the world and would be keen for a big move having had a transfer request rejected by the club in the most recent transfer window.

It is these defensive areas which need the most attention at the club this summer, but perhaps other areas could do with strengthening too. One option could be to invest in a new holding midfield player as an alternative to the young Alex Song, who has certainly demonstrated some promise this season but needs time and competition to drive his career in the right direction. The obvious investment here would be Scott Parker who this season has demonstrated outstanding mental strength, desire and tremendous ability whilst captaining a sinking ship. With West Ham relegated to the Championship Parker will be looking to ply his trade elsewhere and I believe Arsenal would be an ideal fit for a player of his talents.

One final suggestion for Arsenal could be to invest in a striker. Their over reliance upon the injury prone Robin van Persie has become a serious concern, and whenever he is unavailable they struggle to come up with the goals necessary to win a Premier League title. This may seem a controversial suggestion but former Spurs and current Manchester United striker Dimitar Berbatov could well prove a fantastic signing for the ‘Gunners’. He is creative, skilful and elegant which would be in-keeping with Arsenal’s  philosophy and he is a proven goal scorer at the highest level. Such talent coupled with the fact that his omission from Manchester United’s Champions League final squad seems to have signalled his departure, could well prove this to be a viable option.

Potential Ins: Given, Samba, Parker, Hazard, Berbatov, Benzema, Gervinho. Potential Outs: Almunia, Fabianski, Scquilliaci, Fabregas, Arshavin, Chamakh

Manchester United:

Manchester United have had a fantastic season, but their lack of quality ball players and central players with the drive to track the opposition were exposed by Barcelona’s majestic performance against them last week.

With the departure  of old-hands Edwin Van Der Sar and Paul Scholes this summer there appears to be the need for investment in goal and in the middle of their midfield. It seems as though David De Gea of Athletico Madrid has won the battle for the coveted keeping vacancy at Old Trafford, and I would say he is a wise investment. He may only be very young, but he has already had a taste of Champions League football and has emerged as one of Europe’s finest young keepers.

So that leaves the need to invest in a midfield play maker to replace Scholes. A few names have been touted for this role such as Luka Modric of Tottenham and Inter’s Wesley Sneijder. Both of these players would be exceptional signings and an ideal replacement for one of United’s most loyal and talented servants of all time. Another possibility that is rife with rumour amongst the media is for United to sign Samir Nasri in a cut-price deal due to his contractual wrangling at Arsenal. Sir Alex Ferguson is a canny operator and it wouldn’t be beyond the realms of possibility that he could make this deal happen, and if he did it would be a remarkable coup given Nasri’s form over the last year.

Another potential problem for Manchester United  to deal with this summer is that it seems certain that Dimitar berbatov will leave the club. He won the golden boot this season and losing him would effectively leave a void of twenty to twenty five goals a season. Sir Alex Ferguson may well entrust some of his young charges like Javier Hernandez, Danny Wellbeck and Federico Macheda with this responsibility but their does appear to be justification for movements in this direction during the window.

Potential Ins: De Gea, Sneijder, Modric, Nasri, Benzema. Potential Outs: Van Der Sar (confirmed), Scholes (confirmed), Berbatov

Chelsea.

What a season Chelsea have just had. It has been tumultuous to say the least and the recent sacking of Carlo Ancellotti will have done nothing to steady the ship. However, there is a very definite need for them to improve the depth of their squad and a new manager at the helm usually means that their will be money made available for transfers.

Areas of concern for Chelsea could be the wide areas of their midfield and in attack. It seems likely with the amount of money invested in him that Chelsea will remain faithful to Fernando Torres in spite of his lacklustre form since signing for the club. Such faith coupled with the apparent inability of Didier Drogba and him to blend as a partnership could see Drogba their talismanic striker leave this summer. If he does go then Chelsea will need to invest in this area as they can’t afford to part with a player of Drogba’s stature without having lined up a replacement. Karim Benzema would fill the role very nicely and Real Madrid would perhaps be willing to part with him, alternatively they could try and lure Sergio Aguero from Athletico Madrid as they are failing to make the strides necessary to keep hold of a player of his talents. Young Brazilian talent Neymar has also been heavily linked with a big money move to the club.

In midfield their appears the need for greater creativity and innovation in order to supply the likes of Torres with greater effect and regularity. An option here would be to try and lure Kaka from Real Madrid. However, since Ancellotti has been sacked by the club this has become an even more remote option given the link between the two men, an alternative could perhaps be Luka Modric.

Potential Ins: Kaka, Modric, Aguero, Benzema, Neymar. Potential Outs: Ferreira, Bosingwa, Drogba, Sturridge.

Manchester City:

Now that City have seemed to join the elite of English football by securing the FA Cup and Champions League qualification, could it then be time for them to make a real assault on European football. If this is to be the case then they need to strengthen again.

In defence this season Vincent Kompany has been a revelation but given Kolo Toure’s absence from the game for a failed drugs test and Joleon Lescott’s lack of experience at the summit of European football this could be an area that needs strengthening. A possible option could be Bolton Wanderers’ Gary Cahill, a very talented young man who would certainly provide a good alternative to Lescott in the heart of their defence.

Another chink in City’s armour could be in defensive midfield where current first teamer Gareth Barry’s form has appeared to slump over the past twelve months. One option for his replacement could be Scott Parker who seems to have grappled this position away from Barry at international level for England. He is likely to be subject to much interest this summer given his impressive form but City’s millions and the prospect of Champions League football may be enough to tempt him to sign up.

On final area of concern for City is in attack where they must do all in their power to keep a hold of their star player Carlos Tevez. He is one of their only ‘X-Factor’ players and in truth is pretty irreplaceable. However, if he does decide to leave then City will have to come up with an exceptional replacement. Possible options could be Benzema, Berbatov and Aguero but in truth these players could pale in comparison to Tevez and his consistently fantastic contribution to the club.

Potential Ins: Anyone! (Benzema, Berbatov, Aguero, Kaka, Cahill, Parker) Potential Outs: Anyone! (Tevez, Barry).

Whatever unfolds between now and September it appears that we are set for a turbulent summer of big money and major transfer activity, which could perhaps exceed anything like what we have seen in the past. If this is is the case then it will prove to be a hugely exciting period and one which could potentially shape the balance of power in English and European football for years to come.

Below are my predictions for the next English season:

Premier League Top of the table: 1. Manchester United, 2. Manchester City, 3. Chelsea, 4. Liverpool, 5. Arsenal, 6. Tottenham

Premier League Relegation: 18. Blackburn Rovers, 19. Wolverhampton Wanderers, 20. Norwich City

FA Cup: Chelsea

League Cup: Liverpool

Champions League: Barcelona

Best title race ever? Or is it just the worst quality Premier League season of all time?

A new year is upon us and 2011 is set to stage one of the most open title races in the history of the Premier League. Is this as good for English football as it is for the neutral supporter? Interesting certainly, but good for the game?

Will Rooney steer United to the title?

As we enter the new year everybody’s least favourite team Manchester United top the table and with games in hand up their sleeve. Miraculously, given what a turbulent season we have seen so far, United have gone unbeaten up to this point only very rarely impressing along the way. It has been indifferent on the performance side of things from Sir Alex Ferguson’s troops bar a few notable exceptions including the 7-1 demolition of Blackburn Rovers and the 3-2 victory over arch-rivals Liverpool. Even the victory over Liverpool saw them negligently surrender a two goal advantage before Dimitar Berbatov salvaged three points with a piece of magic that he and pretty much only he could muster. Never before could a team boast such a consistently below-par level of performance whilst cruising to a position comfortably situated at the summit of the league come January. If this had been any other league season it is near certain that Manchester United’s form would of seen them soundly beaten five or six times come this stage, not this one however. The Red Devils have demonstrated defensive frailty, an ever-changing and unsettled midfield and up-front their star man Rooney has endured his much reported ‘annus horribilis’, all this yet they are dominating the race for the title. Surely this is reflective of a drop in standards?

What of United’s loosely termed ‘challengers’. Well.. most intriguing of the bunch must be their neighbours Manchester City. Currently City are level on points with United having played two more games much owing to the unstoppable form of their talismanic skipper and ex-United star Carlos Tevez. It is his form that has driven his otherwise under-performing side into second place in the league and their best half-way points tally in the Premier League. Tevez is undoubtedly world class and the owners of the club certainly possess the financial clout that could see big-money arrivals this month. However, it seems unlikely that a team with one absolute superstar and an unsettled squad otherwise would be capable of seeing off Ferguson’s men. It could happen but it seems a little out of City’s reach for now.

Next are the usual suspects Arsenal and Chelsea. The latter’s year has gone from the ecstasy of a domestic league and cup double and early season domination into absolute ruins over the last couple of months. The sudden loss of form from such a talented squad is utterly staggering and it is clear that all is not well within their camp. The usually unflappable force that is manager Carlo Ancellotti seems distant and agitated, star man Didier Drogba can’t buy a goal and is desperately lacking any sort of form or fitness and the press are swarming around the apparent unrest at the Bridge. The recent slide sees them six points a drift of the leaders having already played one more game. It would take another twist of biblical proportion to reignite any challenge from the Blues when it comes to the business end.

Arsenal on the other hand are brimming as ever with youthful exuberance and talent. The football being played by Arsene Wenger’s outfit has as ever been delectable. Such beauty is there to behold but Wenger  must again be ruing his side’s lack of substance when confronted with an organised and physical opponent. Losses to Newcastle and Manchester United horribly exposed Arsenal’s lack of strength and experience, yet again, Wenger protests his team’s increasing nous. The recent victory over Chelsea has sparked an air of belief within the camp that has been vacant for a few years now, but two points adrift with a game more played than United could it be another year void of silverware for the Gunners?

The last real contenders are Tottenham. Led by the signing of the summer Rafael Van Der Vaart and the wizardry of young Gareth Bale Spurs have become outsiders to win the league. It will surely take a couple more transfer coups this month from ‘wheeler’dealer ‘Arry’ Redknapp to seriously pose a threat but stranger things have happened already this season!

So, for now Sir Alex can sit tight with a smile on his battle-hardened face as United continue to stumble towards yet another title. It is advisable though that he does keep a watchful eye on the many challengers in case a minor miracle occurs and one of them actually hits form. The neutral fan will be salivating over the battle ahead, however, it is undeniable that standards have dropped in our beloved league. This off the back of a more than disappointing showing in the World Cup and World Cup bid for 2018 should be causing concern amongst fans and must surely worry the powers-that-be at the FA headquarters. A new year is here lets hope the English game fights back.

Premier League Predictions: 1.Manchester United, 2. Chelsea, 3.Manchester City, 4.Arsenal, 5. Tottenham… 18.Wigan, 19.West Brom, 20. Wolverhampton Wanderers

Players of the season so far: Carlos Tevez, Rafael Van Der Vaart, Darren Fletcher, Dimitar Berbatov, Charlie Adam, Samir Nasri, Luis Nani, Kevin Davies, Johan Elmander, Darren Bent

Young Players of the season so far: Gareth Bale, Andy Carroll, Seamus Coleman, Danny Wellbeck, Javier Hernandez, Rafael, Joe Hart, Adam Johnson

Managers of the year: Ian Holloway, Harry Redknapp, Chris Hughton, Owen Coyle

Can Chelsea fightback?