Liverpool’s Lesson in Silva-Service provides a fitting tribute to the career of Gary Speed

On an incredibly emotional day for football the Premier League’s leaders were pushed all the way at Anfield as they struggled to a draw against Kenny Dalglish’s improving Liverpool side. Perhaps spurred on by their fantastic late win over Chelsea last week and maybe even the saddening events of Sunday morning, Liverpool became the first team to prevent Manchester City from scoring twice in a Premier League game so far this season and in all honesty probably deserved more than their reward of a solitary point.

On Sunday afternoon Anfield, infamous for it’s roaring atmosphere, provided the perfect stage for a huge Premier League game that did justice to the memory of Gary Speed who will forever be regarded as one of the Premier League’s most dedicated and fondly remembered players. Aside from this shocking news there were two other sad stories within the footballing world in the form of Liverpool’s reserve keeper Brad Jones’ son’s passing away, and the tragic death of Togo international players in a fatal bus crash. How fitting it was then that the crowd and players at both of Sunday afternoon’s Premier League fixtures behaved and performed with magnificent valour and respect.

The encounter at Anfield was a terrific showcase of fast-paced and exciting Premier League football and the home side will go away feeling immensely proud of their team’s showing against the division’s outstanding side thus far this season, in spite of how close they came to snatching what would probably have been a deserved victory.

The key to Liverpool’s successes lay primarily with their admirable handling of the division’s outstanding individual so far this season; David Silva. Up to this point no outfit has appeared capable of handling the Spanish playmaker’s incredible league form which has furthered his reputation as one of world football’s most exciting talents. The man whose own team mates call ‘The Magician’ has been electric in nearly every one of City’s league games this season, but Liverpool today somehow mustered up the defensive strength and nouse to limit his impact upon the game.

For the first twenty-to-twenty five minutes City looked every bit the League’s strongest side and were moving the ball around with great confidence and class, spurred on almost inevitably by Silva’s dynamic movement and smart dictation of play. However, from the moment their early dominance put them in front, Liverpool came storming back at them with enormous courage and eventually deserved to walk away with the three points. The way they pressed Silva while he roamed freely behind City’s strikers was magnificent and for almost an hour they completely marked him out of playing a significant role in the match. As the game wore on he cut more and more of a dejected figure as Liverpool’s consistently ferocious pressure denied their opponents the opportunity to feed their diminutive playmaker.

Testament to their unrelenting commitment throughout the game came in ironic fashion when for just a split-second their guard dropped and Silva was presented with the most glorious chance to win the match right on the ninety minute mark. With Edin Dzeko outdoing them on the flank, Liverpool were left bare and seemingly helpless for one of the first times all game only for the Spaniard to spurn his side’s golden opportunity with an uncharacteristic momentary hesitation, which allowed the home side’s dedicated defensive unit to regroup and man the goal-line as Silva eventually conjured up a tame attempt.

The major plaudits for Liverpool’s immense cohesiveness on the day must go to the outstanding Lucas Leiva and Charlie Adam who never shirked their respective duties to squeeze City’s most-prized asset out of extensive periods of the game whilst also launching their own side’s numerous counter-attacks. Their commitment to the cause and effective use of possession inspired those around them to produce the best defensive performance that Manchester City have faced thus far this season. Watch and learn Manchester United, watch and learn… This was a performance worthy of a push for a Champions League place and the emotion and honesty conjured up by Liverpool’s players on the day was reflective of Gary Speed’s own and enormously respected football stylings.

Congratulations Liverpool, and I think I speak on behalf of everyone when I say R.I.P Gary Speed.

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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!

City’s aspirations must be in tune with the past successes of United

This weekend plays host to one of the most awaited Manchester derby matches ever to have graced the Premier League. With City well and truly on the rise in domestic football, hopes will be as high as ever this Sunday amongst their fans regarding their chances of turning over their more illustrious neighbours.

So far this season City have been the focus of much positive and negative attention. Whilst their on-field stylings have been praised for their increased panache and adventure in league football, their European exploits on and off the field have brought yet more unwanted attention to the football club.

When considering the ‘shocking’ moments on and off the field in recent Premier League history it must be said that Manchester City have been at the centre of events all too often. Think Joey Barton and his multiple headline grabbing off-field acts such as violently attacking team-mate Ousmane Dabo. Think Emannuel Adebayor’s day of shame against old club Arsenal where he celebrated a goal with a full length of the field sprint to taunt the Arsenal fans, as well as viciously stamping on Robin Van Persie’s face. Think Carlos Tevez’s childish refusal to come on from the bench against Bayern. Think Mario Balotelli in general. Think of Gary Cooke’s departure from the club amidst stories of entirely inappropriate emails sent mistakenly to the subject of his insensitivity. It has been a tough time for the club and the men in suits constantly being thrust in front of the press to talk about the ‘regretful’ circumstances have certainly been earning their presumably rather decent salaries.

The club should be on the crest of a wave. They are now the holders of a major trophy, they are playing Champions League football and sit atop the table, but for now as long as the perpetual episodes of nonsense continue the club can’t help but be affected.

It must be conceded that United too have had their fair share of controversy in recent times. Ryan Giggs’ all too public failed cover-up of his alleged affairs and Wayne Rooney’s seeming gluttony for headline acts of stupidity act as evidence of this. However, these moments of questionable behaviour have rarely undermined the club or manager Sir Alex Ferguson in the same way that some of City’s moments of ill-discipline have. Rooney verged on doing so with his criticism of the club’s transfer policy last year amidst fears that he wanted to leave the club, but that aside, at United there seems to be a greater sense of cohesion and respect than at City. This is the sort of respect and attitude that develops as a result of year’s of success and dominance which of course City are yet to have enjoyed.

With the way City are performing at present it seems very likely that they could add to their trophy cabinet again this season, and indeed for the next few seasons. With this will come the by-product of respect and authority which they currently lack. For this reason I think that regardless of this Sunday’s result, that Manchester United will win the league again this season. This isn’t to say City couldn’t again have some domestic success in the Cup competitions, as this is where I believe their best chances of success still reside. They are undoubtedly a force to be reckoned with and this Sunday’s game is, as a result, draped with intrigue and excitement.

In recent weeks City have pushed themselves into a position where they have a points advantage over their neighbours in the early stages of the title race. While United have looked more fragile in their last couple of Premier League and European outings, City have arguably had the edge over them with big results against the likes of Everton, Blackburn, Aston Villa and most recently Villareal. Tuesday night’s win over the Spaniards looked rather eerily like the sort of win which United have become famed for. To play well below your best but still come up with the goods in a big European tie, even if it does take the very last kick of the game to do so, is an art form in the world of football. All the best side’s are capable of doing this at least five or six times a season and it is what marks them clearly above and beyond the rest of their competitors.

In spite of their slightly more favourable recent results I am backing City to lose 2-1 this weekend. It will take time before City can go into such matches as favourites and it is a title they will have to work awfully hard to earn. They are on the up, of that there is no doubt, but in this match and this Premier League season I think United will just about come out on top of them. Give City a couple of years and a couple more trophy successes and they could be ready to topple United. In the meantime they must focus on maturing as a club and as individual’s rather than letting their fame and fortune get the better of them. United are far from perfect on and off the field, but City are even further away and for that reason the the City of Manchester could again be painted red this Sunday.

Noisy Neighbours still have much to learn after Super Sunday in the Premier League

Yesterday afternoon was a fine exhibition of just why Manchester United must be considered the favourites to win the Premier League. That isn’t to say Manchester City can’t challenge strongly or indeed Chelsea, but the performance levels of each of the sides and the results that came with them are indicative of United’s favourable chances of retaining their title.

Nani was electric against Chelsea

On a fantastic afternoon of Premier League football there were several fixtures and results that caught the eye. Not only were the combined winners of the last seven titles going head-to-head, but there were several huge games going on around the country and each of them produced four goals apiece.

In the North East there was the battle of two sides who having invested heavily over the summer should really be aiming to go one step better than a mid-table battle this season. Sunderland and their visitors Stoke have brought in high quality buys from some of the league’s stronger clubs and will both hope to challenge for European qualification via their league placing. Big names such as John O’Shea, Wes Brown and Nicklas Bendtner have flocked to the Stadium of Light this summer and yesterday was maybe just the beginning of things to come as they trounced their in-form opponents 4-0. It is fair to say that Stoke’s big signings such as Peter Crouch,Wilson Palacios and Jonathan Woodgate (all formerly of Spurs) are still settling in following their moves to the Brittania but yesterday was a defensive nightmare, something not often associated with Stoke performances.The Black Cats will certainly hope to carry this form into their upcoming matches after a poor start to the season.

Sunderland's new boys seem to be settling in at last

Another 4-0 win was registered yesterday, and this was by Spurs. They like Sunderland have struggled for form thus far this season amidst the unsettling Luka Modric transfer saga, but new signings Scott Parker and Emannuel Adebayor continued their great starts yesterday as they provided a real freshness and willingness against Liverpool. Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish was once again left upset by the performance of the referee in his side’s humbling but I would go as far as to say that the referee handled the key incidents perfectly. For me Charlie Adam’s red card was a dead-cert and Martin Skrtel was sent off for offences which are without question worthy of yellow cards in the modern era.

Could Adebayor be the signing of the summer on loan from City

Maybe the most significant result of the weekend was the 2-2 draw between Fulham and Manchester City. Having controlled the game and taken a seemingly comfortable initiative at 2-0 up City lost their way and with it the two of the three points they had firmly in their grasp. As has been the pattern this season Manchester City had the opportunity to lay down a marker for their more illustrious neighbours and up to this point they had done a good job of it. Yesterday though was the first plain indication this season that City do indeed have some frailties. Rather than the unbelievable claims of Roberto Mancini that he lacks midfield resources at present, I think the concession of their lead has much more to do with pressure and a lack of experience at leading the pack.

City are indeed dealing with notable absences such as Nigel De Jong and James Milner in the heart of their midfield but it is hardly a nightmare to have to cope with playing Gareth Barry and Yaya Toure in this role. After all they have won the Champions League, La Liga and FA Cup titles between them so they aren’t exactly mugs are they? It must be simply terrible to have the likes of Kolo Toure, Pablo Zabaleta, Adam Johnson, Carlos Tevez and Mario Balotelli on your bench mustn’t it? Give me a break.

Mancini's excuses were hard to stomach, but City are a huge threat under his guidance

On a more serious note it has to be said that Mancini must have been desperately upset with his team’s second half display to have lowered himself to such nonsense. However, City and in particular their new star striker Sergio Aguero are continuing to look a serious attacking threat and one which could cause Sir Alex Ferguson a few sleepless nights as the season goes on.

In stark contrast to City’s inability to turn a decent performance into three points was Manchester United’s rather erratic display which earned them a massive 3-1 win over major title rivals Chelsea. It was so hit and miss from United on the day but they still managed to down a Chelsea side that were playing with far greater purpose than they have done so far this season. In attack it was wingers Nani and Ashley Young that were once again in an extremely dangerous mood and they gave the Chelsea defence a torrid time. Though Rooney wasn’t his usual self in front of goal his contribution to the exciting build up play was once again magnificent and it was this that combined beautifully with the wide men’s persistent torment to provide an outstanding counter-attacking display which was reminiscent of Chicago Bulls in the 90’s. Not all the pieces of the jigsaw were quite there for United and a heck of lot was lacking at times but their winning mentality and attacking flair once again did the trick. Sir Alex Ferguson claimed  that the game was “painful” for him to watch, but even he must be staggered by the likes of Phil Jones and Chris Smalling as they continue to hush fears of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic’s absence in the heart of the United defence.

On a Super Sunday of Premier League football United once again asserted their authority and continued to deal with their absences without fuss, whilst this time City came up short. The Noisy Neighbours are gaining momentum and are a huge threat to United’s crown, of that there is no doubt, but yesterday suggested that they are still playing second fiddle in the City of Manchester for now. Tons of goals and tons of entertainment mean that I haven’t even got the time to mention Fernando Torres’ horrible miss…

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?