Manchester XI

I will begin by stating on record for those that don’t know, that I am a Manchester United fan.

Sure, it is easy therefore for my judgement on this particular line-up to become a little clouded. I have though tried my utmost to keep my bias under control and have tried to deliver here what I honestly believe to have been the best Manchester XI up to now this season based on a combination of form and statistics.

Manchester United Manchester City

City’s fans may be on top in this picture, but…

In order to counter those who think this will be based purely on a huge bias towards United, I will remind you that I predicted that City would win the title this year and that I believe that one to eleven that they have just as good a side as United.

I would also hasten to add that I would have picked a similar imbalance of City and United players this time last year, but the imbalance would have been in favour of City and the team would have included the likes of Joe Hart, Vincent Kompany, Joleon Lescott, and Sergio Aguero along with the City representatives who have also made the cut this time around.

My selection is as follows:

(4-2-3-1)

David De Gea

Joe Hart my have out-statted De Gea in terms of clean-sheets, 14 to nine, but he has also been far more error-prone and cost his side more points than De Gea has. The fluffy-lipped Spaniard has come one leaps and bounds this year and has arguably been the best keeper in the league.

Pablo Zabaleta

Zabaleta is probably the only must-pick from City in this entire XI. His form has been so steady all year and he has continued from where he left off last season where he became the bedrock of City’s title push. He has been outstanding this term, and that can’t be said for a single other City player.

Rio Ferdinand

He may not be in favour with most English football fans after his recent antics, but he has had a great season, of that there is no doubt. I have always been a huge admirer of what Rio offers, but even I had thought that we had seen the best of him before this season, but he has had a bit of a renaissance and has been terrific.

Jonny Evans

I never thought I’d say this, but Mr.Evans has grown in to a cracking centre-half. I can’t quite put my finger on why, but I have always found it hard to put much faith in Evans until this season. He and Rio have gelled superbly and this has helped David De Gea no end.

Patrice Evra

One of the easiest selections of the lot. City haven’t contributed a great deal in the left back department this year, Patrice Evra of United on the other hand has been outstanding. As well as sharpening up his defensive game, which had waned a little last year, Evra has also chipped in with four league goals, and five league assists, a fantastic and well deserved return for the Frenchman.

Yaya Toure

He hasn’t been quite as good as last year when I would have rated him as my player of the year, but Yaya is a huge asset for City and has still contributed five goals and three assists despite his lengthy absence caused by the African Cup of Nations. It will be a great relief to City fans that his contractual wranglings appear to have been sorted out, as they desperately need him in the heart of their midfield.

Michael Carrick

He may not have scored a single goal this season, but that is almost the only criticism you could target at Michael Carrick this season. He has been consistently brilliant all year, and the four assists to his name don’t do him any justice. The number of important interventions he has made this season, and the number of goal-scoring moves that he has started or played a big part in must be through the roof. First name on this particular team-sheet.

David Silva

Silva, like Toure, hasn’t quite been at his best this year but he has still been a vital cog in City’s attacking machine and not many have played better in sky blue this term. Four goals and seven assists certainly doesn’t make for bad reading.

Wayne Rooney

Many have targeted a lot of criticism at Mr. Rooney this season, and have indeed suggested that this is to be his last at Old Trafford, but I can’t see why. He has only managed 21 appearances this season, but in these appearances he has scored twelve times (as many as any of City’s players), and has notched an impressive haul of 9 assists (more than any City player). He hasn’t been as good as last season, but his role has changed since RVP’s arrival and he has had some injury bother. Nevertheless his contribution has still been sizeable and I think we are slowly seeing his transition into one of the best attacking mids in world football rather than an out and out striker.

Danny Welbeck

Stats may well be the best indicator around for form and contributions made, but in this case ignore them. He hasn’t been banging in the goals, and he hasn’t been a prolific assist maker either but his work ethic has been immense. So rarely has Welbeck failed to contribute this season, so much so that Ferguson has picked him in most of the big games this year and Welbeck has never let him down. This may just be a personal preference pick, but I think he has had a very decent season in spite of what the stats might tell you.

Robin Van Persie versus Manchester City

Robin ruled triumphant at the Etihad

Robin Van Persie

If Michael Carrick wins the nod for the ‘first name on the team-sheet’ in this line-up, then RVP runs him a close second. He has scored 19 goals in the league and made 8 assists, a brilliant contribution and the sort that must irk Roberto Mancini beyond belief as he tried to sign the prolific Dutchman last summer before United beat them to their target. The brilliant thing about Van Persie’s season has been that most of his goal have been important. Many have been winners or goals that turned the tide in matches. He has been off the boil of late, but don’t hold that against him.

United 8 -3 City

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

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.

 

 

A tale of two diminutive Spaniards

As we all know too well, English football is deprived of creative attacking midfielders with superb craft and much sought after ‘end product’. One particular area of the world though is thriving in this department and you may not be surprised to hear that this is Spain.

Silva and Mata

Silva and Mata are amongst a wealth of creative talent at Spain's disposal

Think Xavi, Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas, David Silva, Juan Mata, Thiago Alcantara, Sergio Canales and Javi Martinez and on the basis of the weekend’s performance Mikel Arteta and you arguably have a list of 8 or 9 experienced and/or enormously talented individuals capable of unlocking defensive doors, playing the killer pass and even getting themselves in the mix for plenty of goalscoring opportunities themselves.

In England on the other hand we are really limited in this crucial area. Gerrard and Lampard still have their moments but it would be hard to deny that they are past their best, Paul Scholes is re-emerging since his brief retirement period as arguably England’s best ball-playing midfielder but he too his way beyond the wrong the side of 30 and beyond this I’m struggling to think of any match-winning playmakers that we have at our disposal.

Jack Wilshere is probably England’s up and coming force in this role but he has already been on the receiving end of a string of injury concerns and may miss out on the Euros this summer and even putting such issues aside is he really better than the likes of Thiago, Canales, Mata and Martinez the emergent midfield forces in and around the Spanish squad? I personally don’t think so.

The other hope for England in this sort of role is Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain but it is very unclear just where he will end up being best utilised in the future for club and country as he is very much in the developmental and fledgling stage of his career at present.

The lack of current and emerging options in this pivotal attacking role is alarming and perhaps why the major English forces in the Premier League have turned to Spain to find their diminutive playmakers.

Manchester City have David Silva operating ‘in the hole’ behind the forwards as their most trusted playmaker, Chelsea have Juan Mata fulfilling much the same role in their line-up and Vicente Del Bosque must be licking his lips when thinking about how two of his dead-certs for the Euros have plied their trade in the Premier League this season.

Juan Mata Chelsea

Silva and Mata have been two of the most impressive playmakers in the Premier League this season

At times, both Spanish attacking central midfield players have been the driving forces behind their team’s runs of form and when they have been at their best they have been almost impossible to handle.

Silva may have looked a little ‘burnt out’ in the latter stages of this season, which of course will be of concern to the Spanish management as well as Manchester City’s but perhaps this is just a knock-on effect of his fellow team-mates’ slumps in form? Even if it is just a personal form issue, one good thing for Spain to come out of Silva’s stuggles to light up the Premier League in the second half of the season is that City have been lost without him, which suggests that he is a hugely influential and instrumental player when he is at his best.

This theory might be for those of a sunnier, glass-half-full disposition but it is a theory that I’m sticking too. I think that as soon as Silva is re-united with his international team-mates before the Euros that he will feel refreshed and will have a new lease of life not often seen in City’s recent struggles.

While City have struggled in the absence of Silva’s best form, Chelsea have begun to flourish as a result of Mata’s rise to prominence.

Perhaps it is the way that Mata was being deployed by Andre Vilas-Boas that was slightly inhibiting the Spaniard’s form in his first few months at the Bridge or perhaps it is just a case of him taking a while to settle in but one thing is for sure and that is that Mata has now begun to express himself as we know he can and that Chelsea are reaping huge benefits as a result.

Mata has far outdone David Silva’s efforts of late and it is little coincidence that their two sides have had coinciding contrasting fortunes, so much so that Chelsea could yet be contesting a Champions League and an FA Cup final whereas Manchester City now look like ending the season trophy-less and dejected.

One might even go as far as to argue that Mata’s recent efforts mean that he deserves to jump Silva in the queue to be part of Spain’s starting play-making unit at the Euros. Whether this will be the case or not though, it is clear that Spain’s finest ball-players are a step ahead of England’s at present and that they have an embarrassment of riches in this role which could well drive them to a third consecutive major tournament win this summer.

One interesting point which I will make though is that England have no one closer to such talents and such attacking influence than Paul Scholes and that his contributions since returning to United this season mean that whoever takes the England to the Euros this summer simply must try again to persuade him out of retirement. If Scholes isn’t a part of the England squad then do we really have anybody who can compete with Xavi, Alonso, Iniesta, Fabregas, Silva and Mata not to mention a couple of other huge talents?

 

 

Manchester homes in on the title, but which of the city’s teams will triumph?

As Sir Alex Ferguson is always so keen to point out, when it comes to March and the title race really hots up, Manchester United tend to come good.

So here we are, March has arrived and what better time for the United’s veteran squad members to find their best and contribute the potentially title deciding goals in a tricky, hard-earned and last-gasp away victory?

Manchester City soundly did their side of things last weekend and put the pressure firmly on the shoulders of Manchester United with just about as comfortable a victory as is possible to come across in the Premier League, winning 3-0 at home to Blackburn. As such, United needed to find an away win over this season’s surprise package Norwich, and as it turned out they were pushed to within an inch of their powers in order to come up with the goods.

United’s eventual 2-1 win was a far-cry from the ‘walk in the park’ City had enjoyed the day before, but sadly for City the reward for their for more domineering win was just the same as United’s for their lacklustre performance; a crucial three points.

The Champions have therefore managed to cut the points difference back to just two points and with only a third of the Premier League season remaining are still well on the case of their bitter rivals. These two wins accrued by the Manchester club’s last weekend may have left them both battling hard for the title but third placed Tottenham saw their challenge effectively ended by their humiliating 5-2 defeat against arch-rivals Arsenal.

Will it be Ferguson or Mancini that comes out on top?

So, seeing as Spurs have fallen by the way-side and that we have reached ‘crunch-time’ in Manchester’s dual-pursuit of Premier League glory I have decided to make predictions for the remaining rounds of fixtures and have worked out where my predictions would take the Premier League trophy. Will it be the Etihad for the first time, or, will it go back to it’s second home (Old Trafford) once again?

  • (A) = Away Fixture
  • (H) = Home Fixture

12 Games Remaining:

Manchester United 2-2 Tottenham (A)

Manchester City 3-0 Bolton (H)

11 Games Remaining:

Manchester United 3-1 West Brom (H)

Manchester City 2-1 Swansea (A)

10 Games Remaining:

Manchester United 2-0 Wolves (A)

Manchester City 2-1 Chelsea (H)

9 Games Remaining:

Manchester United 3-0 Fulham (H)

Manchester City 1-1 Stoke (A)

8 Games Remaining:

Manchester United 2-0 Blackburn (A)

Manchester City 3-1 Sunderland

7 Games Remaining:

Manchester United 5-0 QPR (H)

Manchester City 2-1 Arsenal (A)

6 Games Remaining:

Manchester United 3-1 Wigan (A)

Manchester City 1-1 West Brom (H)

5 Games Remaining:

Manchester United 2-1 Aston Villa (H)

Manchester City 3-1 Norwich (A)

4 Games Remaining:

Manchester United 1-1 Everton (H)

Manchester City 3-0 Wolves (A)

3 Games Remaining:

Manchester City 2-1 Manchester United

2 Games Remaining:

Manchester United 3-0 Swansea (H)

Manchester City 1-2 Newcastle (A)

Last Day of the Season:

Manchester United 2-1 Sunderland (A)

Manchester City 3-1 QPR (H)

 

Predicted Final Standings:

If things were to go as I’ve predicted then the eventual look of the Premier League table would be as follows…

1. Manchester City (92 Points, Goal Difference of +64)

2. Manchester United (90 Points, Goal Difference of +57)

 

So, if my predictions are there or thereabouts then City will win their first Premier League title and they would do so by the narrow two point margin that they currently boast over their rivals heading into the final third of the season. Regardless of the outcome, it is fair to say that the rest of this season is set to be very interesting indeed!

FA Cup Third Round: My Manchester XI

With the dawn of another epic Manchester derby on the horizon I have taken a close look at those available for the 3rd round FA Cup tie and picked my first XI out of the combined match day squads. My team is as below…

The club's two managers would surely love to pick players from each other's squads if they could

(4-1-3-2)

GK: Joe Hart

An easy pick. Neither David De Gea or Anders Lindegaard have really taken command in their respective bids to become Sir Alex’s number one and have both been under question for error-strewn performances. On the other hand, Joe Hart has revelled in his role of huge responsibility at City and is fast becoming one of the stand out goalkeepers in world football.

RB: Micah Richards

When he burst on the the scene a few years back Micah Richards looked set for stardom for both club and country. Though things haven’t exactly gone to plan since then, he has had a very decent season so far and will surely break Fabio Capello’s resolve eventually and make it into his Euro 2012 squad. One of his biggest rivals for a place in England’s squad is United’s Chris Smalling who after a very promising start to the season has tailed off a little. Richards would get my vote for the right back slot in the national team and he gets my vote here too.

CB: Vincent Kompany (c)

Kompany has been outstanding for City throughout 2011 and looks set to carry such imperious form into the new year. He is to City what Nemanja Vidic is to United, and the injury-enforced absence of Vidic from United’s plans is arguably the difference between the two sides at present in the Premier League title race.

CB: Phil Jones

God knows where this hugely talented young man will end up playing for club and country, but he has had a brilliant first season at United no matter where they’ve been playing him. In spite of his great promise, he has endured a couple of very tough outings this past fortnight and his inexperience and naiivity was exposed at times by Newcastle. He might not be at his best at the moment, but Jones is a fantastic young player and will surely go on to be a major success story for United. In this line-up his pace and ball playing ability would compliment Kompany’s strength and discipline very nicely.

LB: Patrice Evra

Though I am one of many who thinks that Evra is perhaps something of a fading force, there is no questioning his remaining ability. He may not be in great form at present, but he is immensly experienced and still has the pace to fly up and down the left flank. For me he is still a far better left-back than Gael Clichy or Aleksandar Kolarov of City.

CDM: Nigel De Jong

In the absence of the suspended Gareth Barry and Yaya Toure who has left for international duty Nigel De Jong will be a hugely important player for City in the coming weeks. In my eyes he is a stronger option than the absent Gareth Barry even when he is available, so to slot him into City’s holding role will hardly weaken their side. In this role United barely provide any competition to De Jong.

Nani excelled against City in the Community Shield

RAM: Nani

The word mercurial is certainly applicable to Nani. When he is at his best he is damn near unstoppable as City found out in the Community Shield in August, but when he is at his worst he is wasteful, greedy and a bad influence on his team mates. Putting to one side for a moment his more irritating tendencies, Nani has become one of the world’s best wide men over the past two seasons. His electric pace, fast-feet, improved delivery and ability to score match-winning wonder goals has seen him rise from a frustrating talent to being one of United’s most potent attacking forces. There isn’t a side in the Premier League that he wouldn’t get in to.

CAM:David Silva

The brilliant little Spaniard has been a little quiet of late but there is no doubting his quality. If there is no Premier League side that Nani wouldn’t get into, then there is no side in world football that Silva couldn’t. United will still be having nightmares about the ‘magicians’ role in the 6-1 win at Old Trafford.

Silva was key to the 6-1 demolition of United @ OT

LAM: Samir Nasri

Like Nani of United, Samir Nasri has phenomenal ability and can at times be a match winner in his own right. His form this season though has failed to live up to his impressive showings in an Arsenal shirt. The man who it seems had the choice of the two Manchester clubs in the summer has a point to prove to the City fans and his manager Roberto Mancini. What better time for him to produce the goods than against United in the cup?

STR: Sergio Aguero

With Mario Balotelli set to miss out with injury, and Edin Dzeko too, the burden of leading the line for City is likely to fall upon Aguero’s shoulders. The Argentine live wire has been instrumental in City’s success so far this season and has racked up a very decent goal count for his first half-campaign of Premier League football. He would comfortably make it into United’s line up at present.

STR: Wayne Rooney

There are few more dangerous forces in world football than a hurt Wayne Rooney. Off the back of disciplinary troubles with United and an abject performance against Newcastle, Rooney will no doubt be more determined than ever to play a part in the demise of United’s local rivals. A partnership of his creative self and the electric Sergio Aguero would be about as good as it gets in world football.

Honourable mentions:

Chris Smalling: A good start to the season seems to have left a lasting impression both upon Sir Alex Ferguson and national team manager Fabio Capello, but on recent form Micah Richards is worthy of getting the nod ahead of him at right back.

Luis Antonio Valencia: A slow start to the 2011-2012 campaign seemed to indicate a struggle for form and fitness, but Valencia has had a good month. His role in the back-to-back 5-0 wins in December and the win over QPR will have gone some way to once again endearing himself to the Old Trafford faithful. He pushes Samir Nasri very close for a place in my line-up.

James Milner: I can’t quite find a way to include him in my combined team, but he seems to have finally found his place at City. It seemed initially that he was struggling to find his best for his latest club, but the England international has impressed when called upon this season.

Javier Hernandez: Hernandez is enormously talented but for me he lacks technical ability. There are few better operators inside the 18 yard box in world football but when required to drop in or pull wide in order to create, Hernandez just isn’t quite up there with the likes of Aguero who also possesses the ability to score from range unlike ‘Chicarito’. Lets look forward to a 30 yard winner from Hernandez tomorrow then!

Could the January transfer window offer United and Chelsea a lifeline as they are found wanting on NYE

Having managed to finally catch up with their local rivals in the race for the Premier League title, Manchester United yesterday committed the cardinal sin of throwing away cheap points at home. The fact that their opponents Blackburn Rovers were best priced at around 28/1 to win the game says it all really, and there is no doubt that the now 70 year-old Sir Alex Ferguson will be fuming at his sides miserable display.

One very minor consolation for Sir Alex and the United fans will be that their former main title challengers Chelsea also fell to a miserable home defeat to end 2011. The performances of both sides were equally disappointing and given their superiority over the past few seasons it was alarming to see their major weaknesses laid bare.

 

image

AVB is praying for a turn up in Chelsea's fortunes

 

If they weren’t already intending to spend this month then these performances were indicative of a dire need for both sides to do so. Chelsea it seemed were always likely to go shopping this January due to various planned departures and an ongoing battle for consistency, but Manchester United’s need for signings was being made less obvious by some very encouraging recent performances.

Back-to-back 5-0 wins and a run of 8 wins in 9 league games had seemingly quelled the need for drastic transfer movements this month, but their ongoing injury crisis was for the first time yesterday truly exposed. Michael Carrick looked uncertain at centre back, their scraped together centre midfield partnership of Park and Rafael looked horribly lacking in every department, and David De Gea’s woes continued in goal. Couple these shortcomings with the recent dip from stand-in captain Patrice Evra and one of Nani’s notorious off-days and it is clear to see why United succumbed to defeat. Put simply; they were there for the taking and Blackburn knew it.

Chelsea’s performance was similarly shoddy and highlighted some fairly comparable shortcomings to United. They too were looking disorganised at the back, weak and creatively lacking in midfield and short of goals and confidence in attack.

Admittedly the performances of United and Chelsea yesterday were uncharacteristic, but the worry for Chelsea in particular will be the increasing frequency of such flat displays.

For United, this showing will rank fairly closely up there with their humiliating 6-1 thumping at home to City, but it was only their second defeat of the season so it is hardly panic stations just yet. Nevertheless, they are looking uncharacteristically lacking in depth at the moment and they might just need a couple more high-class performers if they are to keep up with the blue side of Manchester over the remainder of this season.

Below is my breakdown of potential signings and departures for both clubs this transfer window and how it could affect the look of their line-ups.

Manchester United:

Potential Outs: Darron Gibson, Federico Macheda (loan)

What they need: Desperately need a centre back, could do with two midfielders (one in the holding role and another more creative option)

Rumoured Signings: Wesley Sneijder, Luka Modric, Daniele De Rossi, Mats Hummels, Mario Goetze, Eden Hazard, Jack Rodwell

Recommended Signings: Gary Cahill (worth a pop if Chelsea haven’t yet made it an entirely done deal), Daniele De Rossi, Mario Goetze

What the team could look like with those signings: (4-1-3-2)

David De Gea

Patrice Evra

Phil Jones

Gary Cahill/Rio Ferdinand

Chris Smalling

Luis Nani

Daniele De Rossi

Mario Goetze

Ashley Young/Antonio Valencia

Wayne Rooney

Javier Hernandez/Danny Wellbeck/Dimitar Berbatov

Chelsea:

Potential Outs: Endless… Nicolas Anelka (confirmed), Didier Drogba, Florent Malouda, Fernando Torres, Salomon Kalou, Frank Lampard, Paulo Ferreira, Alex, Romelu Lukaku (loan), Josh McEachran (loan)

What they need: Arguably a goalkeeper if Petr Cech continues to slip up, a central defender, a right back, a box-to-box midfielder (Frank Lampard with a new set of legs), and at least one striker (if not three!)

Rumoured Signings: Hulk, Gonzalo Higuain, Kaka, Luka Modric, Alvaro Perreira, Gary Cahill, Jack Rodwell

Recommended signings: Gonzalo Higuain (£25m), Neymar (£40m), Mario Goetze (£20m), Jack Rodwell (£10-15m), Gary Cahill (£6m), Gregory Van Der Wiel (£15m)

What their team could look like after these suggested signings and the potentially huge amount of departures: (4-1-2-1-2)

Petr Cech

Gregory Van Der Wiel

John Terry

Gary Cahill

Ashley Cole

Oriol Romeu

Jack Rodwell

Ramires/Raul Meireles

Mario Goetze

Daniel Sturridge

Gonzalo Higuain/Neymar

English Super-Powers preparing to save their European lives

Who would have thought that going into the last round of group stage fixtures that the likes of Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea would be in serious danger of falling at the first hurdle? Not many I can assure you, but alas this is the case and arguably England’s three strongest sides are right up against the metaphorical ‘it’.

Of these three giants the side in the most grave danger of failing to progress are Manchester City which is rather unbelievable given their contrastingly magnificent league form. Week after week they are continuing to churn out formidable domestic displays, which, have seen them race five points clear of their Manchester rivals at the top of the Premier League, whilst also seeing themselves through to the last four of the League Cup. However, their stunning form outside of Europe has been belittled by their lacking performances on the continent so far this season and it has left them in an incredibly precarious position.

Manager Roberto Mancini is usually an enormously confident man and has already this season said that he believes that he is in charge of a side that are on a par with the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid. City’s fairly dismal European form has  seriously contradicted their manager’s assessment of their standing in world football though, to the point where going into Wednesday’s game against Bayern Munich he has conceded that they have a “60% chance” of an early exit.

Mancini’s concession that his side are facing an unenviable task must have been a really bitter pill to swallow. Having guided them to their first piece of silverware in their wealthy new-era and their first ever qualification to the Champions League, Mancini will have no doubt dreamt that his charges would venture out into the unknown and lay down a serious marker. Along with their passionate fans he will have let his mind wander freely to thoughts of making the Etihad Stadium one of European football’s most feared fortresses whilst moulding his squad into ferocious battlers when travelling away on the continent. Sadly, the blue side of Manchester have seen little of these dreams becoming a reality and their team have looked every bit a rookie side in this year’s competition.

It is quite often the case that one of England’s teams struggle en route to first round qualification but this year has provided us with two additional strugglers in the form of Manchester United and Chelsea, who in recent years have established themselves as two of the most consistently strong European performers. Manchester United must go away to Basle on Wednesday and get a point to secure qualification and though this would usually be run of the mill for Sir Alex Ferguson’s men, this season has seen them repetitively stuttering through their group matches to the point where they have only achieved victory over whipping boys Otelul Galati.

Though they will undoubtedly go into Wednesday evening’s game as big favourites to progress, their Swiss opponents have already proven their ability to compete with United in their thrilling 3-3 draw at Old Trafford. This game saw United cruising as a result of a first half brace from Danny Wellbeck, but then they suffered a dramatic second half collapse nearly losing all three points only to be saved by Ashley Young’s most crucial United goal to date in the dying embers of the game. Maybe the fact that they know not to be complacent against their inferior opponents will aid them in their quest to secure qualification, but win, lose or draw Sir Alex will know that his team have drastically under performed throughout a group which they should have topped with some spare left in the tank.

The third English offering on this year’s list of under-achievers in the Champions League groups are Chelsea whose struggles have extended to all competitions under new boss Andre Vilas-Boas. Having raced to seven points from their first three games Chelsea looked to set to win the group with comfort, but since then they have suffered a major dip in European success that has coincided with a rotten run of results in the Premier League. Their previous two games have seen them play out a stale draw against Belgian minnows Genk and an immensely disappointing defeat away to Leverkusen having taken the lead in Germany. These equally damaging results have seen them slump to a position in the group where they must either achieve victory or a scoreless draw against a very decent Valencia side. They, like Manchester United, will be expected to make their class and experience show on a huge night for the club but there are perhaps greater doubts about their ability to do so than United’s when taking into account their poor recent form and their manager’s limited experience of facing up to serious adversity.

If all three of the aforementioned sides fail to qualify for the knockout stages then it would probably make for just about the greatest shock in the history of the competition given each of their standings in world football. Though Manchester City are in their rookie year in the competition they are fast establishing themselves as one of England’s strongest outfits, and the quality and depth of their squad is well in line with their lofty ambitions. For some reason though they, along with United and Chelsea, are performing with a lack of resolve and at times a complete lack of imagination in this year’s competition and as such have found themselves on the verge of an embarrassing early exit.

The fallout from the these three sides’ potential failure to progress could be enormous in terms of their finances and their reputations and if the rumour mill is to be trusted then it could even cost them the services of their managers. If Chelsea were to fail this evening then it is entirely feasible that Andre Vilas-Boas could be given his marching orders just months after taking the reigns at the club. Mancini too, in spite of his domestic success thus far this season, could face serious scrutiny if City don’t qualify for the next round. Probably the most strongly positioned manager of the three is Sir Alex Ferguson given that he has twenty five years of great success at United, but even he may have to re-consider his remaining value to the club if they were to be knocked out on Wednesday.

As it stands things look fairly dire for three of our major forces in European football, but just what will be the outcome of this week’s huge matches? We await the results with enormous anxiety and anticipation and soon we will know if  English club football is set for a crisis of confidence on the European stage.

 

My Predictions:

Chelsea win and take second place, United win and take second place, City draw at home to Munich but are eliminated as a result of Napoli defeating Villareal.