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)…

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Premier League 2012/2013: Team by Team Preview

Arsenal

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

Alex Song Barcelona

Signings: Santi Cazorla, Lukas Podolski, Olivier Giroud

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

Prediction: 5th

Aston Villa

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

Bent Villa

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

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

Prediction: 13th

Chelsea

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

Torres Chelsea

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

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

Prediction: 3rd

Everton

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

Jelavic Everton

Signings: Steven Pienaar, Steven Naismith

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

Prediction: 8th

Fulham

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

Dempsey Fulham

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

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

Prediction: 12th

Liverpool

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

Suarez Liverpool

Signings: Joe Allen, Fabio Borini

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

Prediction: 6th

Manchester City

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

Toure Man City

Signings: Jack Rodwell

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

Prediction: 1st

Manchester United

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

Carrick Man Utd

Signings: Robin Van Persie, Nick Powell, Shinji Kagawa

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

Prediction: 2nd

Newcastle

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

Tiote Newcastle

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

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

Prediction: 7th

Norwich

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

Holt Norwich

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

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

Prediction: 20th

QPR

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

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

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

Prediction: 10th

Reading

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

Pogrebnyak Reading

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

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

Prediction:15th

Southampton

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

Lambert Southampton

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

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

Prediction:18th

Stoke

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

Crouch Stoke City

Signings: Michael Kightly, Geoff Cameron, Jamie Ness

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

Prediction: 14th

Sunderland

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

Sessegnon Sunderland

Signings: Louis Saha, Carlos Cuellar

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

Prediction: 9th

Swansea

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

Sinclair Swansea City

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

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

Prediction: 17th

Tottenham

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

Vertonghen Spurs

Signings: Jan Vertonghen, Gylfi Sigurdsson

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

Prediction: 4th

West Brom

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

Foster West Brom

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

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

Prediction: 19th

West Ham

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

Tomkins West Ham

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

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

Prediction: 11th

Wigan

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

Kone Wigan

Signings: Arouna Kone, Fraser Fyvie, Ivan Ramis

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

Prediction: 16th

Euro 2012 Group C: Can anyone topple Spain?

Italy:

The Italian national side may have endured a few years of indifferent form but they remain the most recent side to have won a major trophy aside from Spain who accompany them in group C.

Spear-headed by ‘Super-Mario’ Balotelli the Italians will go into the Euros knowing that in being drawn with the reigning champions they have immediately become only the second favourites to progress from their group but also that they have a huge chance to send out a statement of intent by either beating Spain or by finishing above them in the group.

Balotelli Italy

Balotelli will have to keep his emotions in check if he is to deliver for Italy at the Euros

As ever with the Italian national side there is plenty of experience to call upon in the form of players like Gianluigi Buffon, Giorgo Chiellini, Daniele De Rossi, Anrdrea Pirlo and Antonio Di Natale but the squad they’ve named for the Euros is arguably their most exciting and refreshing selection for quite some time in major tournament football.

In and around the experienced figure-heads of the squad there is plenty of youth and plenty of talent and it isn’t limited to just one area of the field either. At the back the likes of Angelo Ogbonna and Ignacio Abate look like big prospects and up top they have included the likes of Fabio Borini and Sebastian Giovinco to support the ever-eccentric Balotelli.

One to watch… Mario Balotelli: It may well feel like Balotelli has been around forever given the antics on and off the field which have made him so well known but this will be the very first major tournament appearance for Italy. There is no doubting his ability to succeed and be a star at the Euros but huge questions still remain about his temperament and it will be interesting to see if he can keep his emotions in check.

Euros nostalgia: Italy have a rich history in World Cup football but their Euros record is poor by comparison. In two of the past four tournaments they have failed to get out of their group but they did reach the final in 2000 when they were felled by an extra-time winner from France’s David Trezeguet. The only time Italy have won the tournament was way back in 1968.

Tournament prospects: It appears to me as if Italy will be hugely reliant on the ability of Balotelli up-front as he is their real stand-out player. There is a decent blend of youth and experience at Italy’s disposal for the Euros and in spite of the turmoil in domestic Italian football at the moment it would still be a surprise if they weren’t to make it out of the group.

Spain:

Reigning champions Spain have an awful lot to live up to this summer given their fantastic performances in the last two major international competitions but their technically gifted squad should be confident of landing a third straight piece of silverware.

Iniesta Xavi

Spain’s ‘Golden Duo’ in midfield will team up once again

One area which could be exploited by other teams is their defence which will be missing their rock of a centre-half and the man that would have been their captain, Carles Puyol. Any potential problems at the back for Spain may not just be caused by Puyol’s absence but also the form and versatility of their other defensive options.

Their other truly world class centre-half, Gerard Pique, hasn’t enjoyed his finest season with Barcelona this year and he may well be partnered by Sergio Ramos, a man far more accustomed to playing at full-back, in the heart of Spain’s defence.

Another potential creak in the Spanish rear-guard is their lack of a natural left-back. They will probably opt to play Valencia’s Jordi Alba in this position but he isn’t exactly a natural defender. He is very strong going forward has the pace and stamina to get up and down the left flank all game long but it is unclear up to now whether he possesses the discipline to play in such an important position on one of world football’s biggest stages.

Another major miss for Spain this summer is that of David Villa who hasn’t recovered in time from a broken leg suffered at the back end of 2011. However, as much as Villa is a big loss one would have to think that Spain have more than enough in reserve to cover his absence as their squad still possesses so much attacking strength and depth that players such as Cesc Fabregas, Pedro and Fernando Torres all might struggle to find a place in the starting line-up.

One to watch… Fernando Llorente: The powerful Athletic Bilbao forward has played a huge part in his clubs impressive cup runs both in Europe and in domestic football this season and in the absence of David Villa and the absence of Fernando Torres’ best form it could be down to him to lead the line for Spain and to provide the bulk of goals needed to win a tournament like the Euros.

Euros nostalgia: The previous European Championships in 2008 saw Spain underline their undoubted potential. Inspired by the coinciding rise to prominence of Barcelona and their famous ‘tiki-taka’ brand of football, Spain passed their way to the most elegant of major tournament victories sealing their triumph with a 1-0 win over big-tournament specialists Germany in the final.

Tournament prospects: Given their recent successes in major tournament football Spain will go into the Euros as the team to beat and rightly so. They may appear a little damaged by a couple of major injury-enforced absences but the depth of quality at their disposal should allow them to cope with such losses and go deep into the competition. I have a hunch that this might be the tournament where they are finally denied victory but I wouldn’t be surprised to see them get to the final once again.

Republic of Ireland:

This is the first time that the Republic of Ireland have qualified for a major tournament since the World Cup in 2002 and their Italian-heavy coaching contingent deserve an enormous amount of credit for the work they’ve done in getting their side back to this level.

There are a few survivors from the World Cup in 2002 still present in Ireland’s squad for the Euros and they will be hoping that these more experienced players can help them try and stand up to the likes of reigning champions Spain in the group stages.

James McClean Ireland

McClean has been a great find for Sunderland and he hopes to be much the same for Ireland

To be drawn in the same group as Spain on their return to major tournament football might appear a little unlucky for Ireland but their players and their fans will just be delighted to be back at this level and to be being thrust into direct competition with the world’s best side.

One to watch… James McClean: Sunderland’s power-house of a winger was plucked from the relative obscurity of the Irish leagues last summer and since Northern-Irishman Martin O’Neill has taken the helm at the North-East club McClean has been thrust into their starting line-up and has excelled . The youngster’s meteoric rise to prominence was sealed when Giovanni Trapattoni named him in Ireland’s squad for the Euros and now he has the opportunity to impress on an even bigger stage.

Euros nostalgia: Ireland’s only previous taste of the Euros came under Jack Charlton’s management back in 1988. They narrowly missed out on a semi-final place but took away with them the precious memory of defeating England 1-0 in their opening game of the tournament.

Tournament prospects: Ireland go into the Euros as huge underdogs and most people, myself included, will expect them to end the group stages propping up the rest of teams in Group C. The excitement surrounding them competing in one of world football’s biggest competitions will undoubtedly inspire them and I expect them to give everyone in their group a good game but ultimately I can’t see how they will get enough points on the board to challenge for a place in the quarter-finals.

Croatia:

Ever since Croatia took their first steps into international football as an independent nation in the early 1990’s they have never looked back and they have often impressed and punched above their weight in major tournaments.

Modric Croatia

Modric will be key to Croatia’s hopes at the Euros

This time around the Croats will head into the Euros armed with a squad including one of world football’s most highly-rated attacking midfielders in Luka Modric and they will hope that their chief playmaker can help them compete strongly in the group stages and get them into the reckoning for a place in the last eight.

Though they might not possess one of the more eye-catching squads in European football Croatia should not be underestimated as they have a lot of very decent players to accompany the likes of Luka Modric and perhaps none more so than their striker Nikica Jelavic who has been a major hit at Everton since signing from Rangers in January.

One to watch… Nikica Jelavic: Having established himself as the most threatening striker in the SPL in his time with Rangers, Jelavic has now made the big move south of the border and into Premier League football and in his first few months in England he has proved himself time and again and his form towards the end of the season was as good as pretty much any other striker in the league. If the Croatian front-man can carry this form into the summer then Croatia could spring a few surprises once again.

Euros nostalgia: Croatia are responsible for one of the most famous nights of English football’s recent history after defeating them by three goals to two at Wembley in the final game of their qualification group for the 2008 tournament. This victory saw Croatia become one of the teams to qualify at England’s expense and thus denying one of Europe’s finest sides on paper a place in the previous European Championships.

A brief summary of Group C:

On paper it appears as if reigning champions Spain will be the huge favourites to win Group C and I can’t see anybody preventing them from doing so.

Beyond this though I am struggling to work out exactly what the outcome of the group will be but I suspect that Ireland will finish bottom of the group and therefore I think that it is between Italy and Croatia in the battle to qualify for the latter stages of the tournament.

If it were simply down to the quality of the sides on paper then I would plump for Italy every time but Croatia have demonstrated several times in the past that they aren’t afraid of a challenge and Italy may well be inhibited by the ongoing investigations into corruption and match-fixing in their domestic leagues. It is a really tough call and I am clueless as to who will progress alongside Spain.



Premier League Predictions: The Final Weekend

Rooney Aguero

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

 

Chelsea 3-0 Blackburn

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

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

Everton 1-1 Newcastle

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

Man City 2-1 QPR

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

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

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

Norwich 1-1 Aston Villa

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

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

Stoke 2-2 Bolton Wanderers

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

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

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

Sunderland 1-3 Manchester United

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

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

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

Swansea 1-2 Liverpool

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

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

Tottenham 3-1 Fulham

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

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

West Brom 1-2 Arsenal

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

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

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

Wigan 2-0 Wolves

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

Podolski

Podolski has a fantastic international record

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

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

Gaitan impressed against United and will have attracted interest from SAF

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shinji Kagawa

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

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

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

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

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

Iker Muniain Javi Martinez

Bilbao have entertained in the Europa League

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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