Category Archives: Your Views

Premier League Preview 15/16

[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/218273185″ params=”auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true” width=”100%” height=”450″ iframe=”true” /]It’s back. The thing that gets us through Mondays, fills our weekends and carries us on an emotional roller-coaster every year, the Premier League season begins tomorrow. Just like I did last year, I’m now going to predict how the season will unfold, giving you the perfect opportunity to get some #numbers come May when almost all of it is spectacularly incorrect, such is the nature of the Premier League.

The Big Boys

Chelsea haven’t exactly improved their squad this window, nor have they had an impressive pre-season but if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? Except, it is a little broke. There are flaws in the team. Drogba out, Falcao in, Cech out, Begović in, one could argue is two downgrades. Can Falcao really be relied upon to do a job in Costa’s absence when the inevitable hamstring injuries come? I doubt it. Despite convincingly winning the league last season, there is room for improvement. The defence needs a bit of a reshuffle, in my opinion. Cahill isn’t good enough to start, a new full back needs to come in after Filipe Luis’ return to Atléti only a year after joining. Mourinho’s defensive system works, Matić is strong protection, however there are flaws which could have been addressed but weren’t, such as the lack of a second physical presence in midfield. We often see Matić being dragged out of position and the hole in front of the defence being exploited. They should retain their title, but that right side could be exposed defensively. Their formidable attack can take apart any team and with Hazard always improving, they should have little trouble winning the league for the second year running. Prediction: 1st.

They say there are three things certain in life; death, taxes and Arsenal qualifying for the Champions League. The team synonymous with finishing fourth are capable of doing more, like they did last season. They are still a top class forward away from a genuine title challenge, but this is the best squad they’ve had in years. The addition of Cech in goal, bringing stability to the back line behind the best central defence partnership in the league, will improve the team hugely. Neither Szczesney nor Ospina were convincing last season. Ramsey, Özil and Oxlade Chamberlain all played well in pre-season. Those three with Alexis Sánchez could be a deadly quadrant this season if they all stay mostly injury free. Spirits are high, the quality is there, they just need to be consistent and there’s no reason why they can’t come 2nd.

Last year I slightly overestimated Manchester City with regards to how well they would play, they still managed 2nd. They didn’t show the same togetherness and hunger that Chelsea did. That, with Vincent Kompany’s transformation into Phil Jones on MD and Yaya Touré becoming more and more sluggish lead to a disappointing campaign in which they couldn’t retain their 13/14 title. This summer they’ve bought quite well. Raheem Sterling will be a breath of fresh air in attack for City fans, saving them the depressing task of watching Jesús Navas every week. Delph is an underwhelming signing for a club of City’s finances and ambitions but he will do some of Yaya’s donkey work which should benefit the team hugely. Central defence still needs a makeover but they will be a force, especially if they sign De Bruyne. Prediction: 3rd.

A few weeks ago it seemed United were having a great window. The additions of midfield men Morgan Schneiderlin and Bastian Schweinsteiger with the arrivals of Memphis Depay and Matteo Darmian are all good signings. Doubts remain over Schweinsteiger’s fitness but his leadership and quality were a bargain at less than £15m. However, the departure of Ángel di María, with whom things just didn’t work out, fan favourite Rafael being sold on the cheap, the De Gea saga still not over, no signs of another back up striker coming in and no centre back either mean the summer hasn’t gone as well as it could have. Ideally, they should have brought in Otamendi, sorted the GK situation, signed Pedro and perhaps another creative midfielder to replace di María and signed a back up striker before the first game but as we’ve learned, Louis van Gaal doesn’t like to do things logically. Many ins and outs and seemingly a change back to 4-2-3-1 don’t fill me with confidence for United’s season but the new midfielders will have a big impact, I think. Prediction: 4th, again. Maybe a cup.

Liverpool have bought well with the hefty fee received in exchange for Raheem Sterling. Firmino is a great signing who ought to take the league by storm with his compatriot, Coutinho. Milner is a good acquisition, however he and Henderson are very similar in style and I can see Rodgers struggling to find a winning formula with them both starting in CM, which is the main reason Milner went there. Clyne will be a huge upgrade on Johnson, Joe Gomez looked promising in pre-season, but the rumours of Lovren coming back in at LCB ahead of Sakho are a concern. Lovren was poor last season, Skrtel wasn’t much better. If that partnership is rekindled, I cannot see much success coming from it. After a season of rotating Sterling out of position as a number 9, Lambert and Borini due to Sturridge’s injury problems and Balotelli’s lack of integration, they signed Christian Benteke. I have my doubts over how well he will play, given that he is more similar to Balotelli and Lambert in style – neither of whom have had great Liverpool careers – than Suarez and Sturridge – who thrived under Rodgers. But he has shown his quality at Villa and I think with Milner, Firmino, Lallana and Coutinho supplying him with service, he should do the business and bag many goals. If Sturridge returns and they can play together, even better. Prediction: 5th

Spurs will be Spurs again. Toby Alderweireld will slot in alongside his national teammate Jan Vertonghen in defence, an upgrade on Fazio, Kaboul and Chiriches, but a distinct lack of attacking signings is a concern. Neither Lamela nor Chadli have come close to replicating anything near to what Bale gave the team. Levy needed to add more quality to the attacking midfield. They have been chasing Yannick Bolasie but it seems they’ll be priced out by Crystal Palace. Understandable given the winger’s unique style of play and importance to his current team. They may struggle if they don’t bring in another central midfielder too, after the departures of Paulinho and Capoue there is a lack of depth. If Kane proves not to be a one season wonder, his goals should carry them to a top 6 finish. Prediction: 6th.

Mid-table

Southampton, Swansea, Palace, Everton, Stoke and maybe West Ham will fill the mid-table positions. It’s hard to say how well Cedric will replace Clyne for Saints, but Southampton’s scouting system is evidently fantastic, so let’s assume he’s good. There’s no reason to think they won’t keep progressing under young and innovative coach Garry Monk. Southampton and Swansea will finish 7th and 8th respectively, I think. Just below will be Everton, Palace and Stoke. Everton have had two disappointing seasons under Martinez, finishing much lower than what’s expected of a club of their stature. The permanent capture of Deulofeu and John Stones staying at the club are big boosts for the Toffees who will be looking to climb back up to the top 7, but I doubt they’ll manage better than 9th or 8th.

Palace should build on their excellent 14/15 campaign, turned around by the arrival of club legend Alan Pardew. They have strengthened hugely. Patrick Bamford and Connor Wickham have come in to lead the line, Bacary Sako has come in to add goals from wide, Alex McCarthy has come in to add depth in goal and last but by no means least, Yohan Cabaye. The Frenchman will add class and creativity to Palace’s midfield. After he passed Palace off the pitch in December 2013, the Eagles fans will hope that their new number 7 can help them to control more matches and create more chances. Prediction: 10th again.

Stoke have lost Nzonzi who was a huge presence for them in central midfield, but they have added some quality in attack in former Barça winger Ibrahim Affelay, who will replace Victor Moses after his return to Chelsea. Affelay will join Bojan and Muniesa in the ex-Barça contingent at Stoke which sometimes makes it look as though Mark Hughes is playing Career Mode on Fifa 12, but it seems to be working. They’re striving to shed the hoof-ball tag which Tony Pulis’ of play created with these signings and more attractive, attacking, Barça style of play. Prediction: 11th.

Two teams in the bottom half who we can safely predict won’t go down are West Ham and Newcastle. Dimitri Payet at West Ham and Wijnaldum at Newcastle should fire their respective teams to a comfortable finish but I doubt either will climb into the top half. Every other team could potentially go down.

Relegation candidates

Norwich, Watford and Bournemouth have come up, and while they would appear favourites to be relegated, it’s never the case. Bournemouth have made great acquisitions in Atsu and Gradel. The latter should inject goals from the wing. They have a young and hungry coach who will want to prove himself to the world and overcome the odds, so I would hesitate before writing them off. Watford have also made good signings – Capoue, Behrami and Italian veteran Diamanti will bolster the midfield and their star striker from the past few seasons, Troy Deeney should fire them to safety.

Norwich won the play-off final convincingly, scoring two in the first half. Cameron Jerome and Nathan Redmond fired them to promotion last season, but their squad is not the strongest and I think they’re likely to go back down. And to be frank I hope they do, that third kit is atrocious.

Other clubs in danger are Sunderland, West Brom, Villa and Leicester. The Foxes’ great escape last season was spectacular and with new coach Claudio Ranieri, they will be trying to build on that and solidify their Premier League status. But they will struggle, again, and they’re one of my teams to go down. The other two are Sunderland and Norwich. I don’t think the signing of Yann M’Vila will be enough to keep Sunderland up; their defence is worryingly bad. Defoe’s goals will give them a chance, though. West Brom will survive I reckon, Pulis has never been relegated after all. If they can get Berahino and Lambert playing well together, they should be comfortable. Another narrow escape for Villa is on the cards. They lost Benteke and Delph, but Sherwood has invested the money to strengthen the squad with the likes of Rudy Gestede and Jordan Ayew coming in. The reshuffle will mean time is needed for the squad to gel, but they have the ability to stay up.

By Reuben Pinder.

Follow Reuben on Twitter @MarcoReubs

Follow @TouchlineFracas

Is Harry Kane the man to end England’s 50 years of pain?

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Report’s from FA Chairman Greg Dyke have recently surfaced, as England’s man of the moment and newly crowned Young Player Of The Year, Harry Kane, declared that he is to participate in this summer’s European Championships for the Under-21 national side. This comes as somewhat of a surprise, considering that Kane has forced himself into the senior squad and also, that so many other top, young, English talents have previously declined to represent their nation at this level in to order play for the first team, often with limited success. By doing so, the Spurs front man is addressing an issue that has kept England from progressing as a footballing nation in the same way that more successful countries have. The issue of very good footballers not being able to replicate club form on an international level, where it actually matters.

England are a nation known for developing quality players who’ve just never made the grade at producing in pressured situations. I mean for starters, the current captain is somebody who completely epitomises this notion. We all remember stories from Brazil of Wayne Rooney seeking, (and scoring) his first World Cup goal last summer, at the FOURTH time of asking! This is the same Wayne Rooney who burst on the scene at 16-years old, beating David Seaman from 25 yards out. The very same Wayne Rooney who has scored 230 goals in over a decade for Manchester United. So with such a list of accolades, why was there ever the issue with a player of such quality falling short of expectation at the top level? One possible explanation is that Rooney was thrusted into the first team fold as a fresh-faced teenage prospect. Though at an age where he was available to play for younger side, his ability made him a regular full international, meaning he missed the experience from playing very often at this level.

Now tournaments such as the Under-21 European Championship offer huge amounts to a young footballer’s development. For instance, they give players a chance to judge their ability against the best players of that particular age group.  Additionally, these are more often than not, the bulk of the players who will go on to represent their nations in the future senior tournaments, providing the chance to gauge progress against their counterparts throughout the different stages of their careers.

By Harry Kane opting to represent the Under-21’s as a full international, he is opening the door for more young players to follow suit. The likes of Luke Shaw, Ross Barkley and John Stones are all able to feature for both teams, yet are often selected for Hodgson’s team in bit-part roles. There is surely more to learn by perfecting their craft as regulars with the younger side as opposed to featuring on the periphery of the full setup. Just look at some of Europe’s ‘better’ footballing nations, who send many of their younger players to such competitions regardless of their prominence in their respected first team.

Take Netherlands for example, who opened their last Under-21 Championships campaign with 10 of their starting XI as full internationals. Many of which made up the core of the side that went on to finish 3rd at last summer’s World Cup. These include Stef De Vrij, Bruno Martins-Indi and captain, Kevin Strootman who was unfortunately sidelined through serious injury throughout the tournament. Louis Van Gaal reportedly altered his team’s entire system due to Strootman’s absence, demonstrating how significant a loss such a young player was to the first team setup.

By allowing younger first team talents to progress accordingly throughout the system, these players are able to make the transition from potential prospects to international quality footballers with the experience and a certain know-how, only gained from competitive football. Something that English players have seemingly lacked, pretty much forever. I mean, can you imagine this year’s Under-21 with the likes of Barkley, Sterling and The Ox featuring alongside Kane? Would simply be better for the nation to have as strong a squad as possible going into the Championships. Instead, all the above are likely to be called into the senior side for seemingly pointless friendlies or pretty straightforward qualifiers instead of actually playing relevant football. Including such talent would ensure that England would actually have a sniff of winning a competition for once, and by doing so, it could serve as a catalyst for future successes in such competition and if not, then at least give these young players a chance to make the mistakes while they are able to, as opposed to on the big stage where it matters. The sort of mistakes that can often be harmful to the development of young professional footballers.

So I guess Harry Kane is the man who could take English football to a whole new level. Barring his 30 odd goals this season, he has the right mentality to not only become a better player, but also to inspire those around him to adopt this continental mindset, which in this case isn’t a bad thing. A couple more like him and who knows, maybe England’s 50 something years of hurt could be a thing of the past.

By @BinnzyLohan

One Step Forward, Two Midfield Steps Back

Isn’t crazy how things in football change within year? Within that year, you could carve a name for yourself or unfortunately destroy a reputation you spent most of a career creating. Almost 12 months ago, news broke that Manchester United had managed to pull off the signing of Radamel Falcao to the delight of United fans and surprise of rival fans. The excitement amongst the fans was understandable, high numbers were being thrown about as to how many goals he, Van Persie and Rooney could get between the 3. Especially as Man Utd had just signed Di Maria, there was a sense of 07/08 about the attacking talents LVG had at his disposal.

We are now coming towards the end of the season and those numbers forecasted by fans look like a joke in comparison to reality. Falcao has 4 in 23, RVP has 10 in 26 and Rooney has 14 in 32 , which I am sure we can all agree is poor by their standards but why is that the case? Age? Injuries? Deterioration? it could quite possibly be all of the above! However something that has not been mentioned as much are the guys behind them. Yes, the midfield. LVG has tinkered with formations all season in an attempt to accommodate his best players, despite his preference of the 4-3-3 but one thing has remained, the playing style: A controlled possession approach. What has that got to do with our strikers you may ask? Van Persie was once described by Gary Neville as a backdoor burglar and Falcao could even be thrown into that category. They are 9’s with predatory instinct in finishing couple with cerebral movements. They gamble making countless runs in between the centre backs. Rooney is a different type of striker. A false 9 one who roams around the pitch in search of space yet he has been used as a 9 in the mould of Falcao and Van Persie. Anyway, I am sure we know that so enough about the strikers’ traits, let us move onto midfield.

For most part of the season, Man Utd have gone with a 3-5-2 and anyone who watched us during that period would have noticed how lethargic we were and the lack of variation we had in our passing but the formation is irrelevant as it happened when Utd went with 4 at the back, as well. The issue, for me, stems from the passing amongst our midfielders. It was slow, pedestrian, sideways passing that turned a blind eye towards the movement of our strikers. Think QPR, West Ham and Burnley away. What Falcao and especially RVP rely on is the early ball. i.e (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DPf-lrsAId0) RVP goal away at West Ham FA Cup – notice how early Giggs hits that and, more importantly, it is FORWARD complimenting RVP movement. The same pair are at it again vs Olympiakos to win the penalty. Another Example (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4DjLzd0vQ8o) RVP vs Villa, Rooney gets his head up and it is about 5 touches in total. That is RVP at his best. If I were to pick moments from this season, which is very few and far, here are some examples RVP vs Leicester (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T0v7b8dU_9U) that starts from a pass from Rojo in his own half and 3 touches later it is in the back of the net. Rooney vs Newcastle (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c3BcjkCGDYg) Mata gets his head up and picks a peach of a pass into Falcao’s path, who peels off his CB. These are sporadic moments throughout the season so far. LVG earlier said he didn’t have a 20 goal striker. He could not be more wrong. He has 3 but it is how has the team gone about the business and maybe a misquote due to English being his second language. I have not mentioned Rooney much because he has played the majority of the season in midfield but recently LVG has restored him up front, to which he responded well. Coincidentally, however, that came in the run where our midfield upped the tempo and added a variation of passing to their game however he has started to tail off and the Red Devils are no closer to solving this problem that they have.
Over the weekend, United visited Goodison Park and left with their tails in between their legs. One thing that struck me was the similarity in that game and the same game a year ago against the same opposition. It was how the midfield performed – it was slow. It was unimaginative. It was sideways. It was like the possession you do whilst warming up and it was no surprise that Rooney, who many had called for to lead the line because of his ‘energy, pace and ability to run into the chanels’, looked as ordinary as his pals Falcao and RVP. At times, I feel sorry watching our strikers, especially when the players in midfield seem to have this horrible trait of turning a blind eye to the runs that the striker makes and only slinging the ball into feet when RVP/ Falcao/ Rooney are tired of making runs and come short to be involved, only to be surrounded by defenders (Not too dissimilar to the incident that led to the goal at Stamford Bridge) .
One idea Man Utd could explore is going into the market but if they were to go into the market, it would have to be a striker in the mould of Tevez, Suarez and Aguero, who like to get busy and are not reliant on the service of their team-mates, unlike regular no.9s. Another option Utd is right in front of them, in the shape of Angel Di Maria on the bench. Despite his annoying tendency to cross the ball from ridiculous areas of the pitch, he has probably been the only player, Herrera aside, to play that penetrative and imaginative pass. Cast your mind back to Mata’s overhead kick or how about the second half of the QPR away game or his off the bench cameos where he has seemed to be on the only person able to appreciate the forward runs of our strikers, but can be lacking in the execution of his attempt. I personally would love to see that and believe it would be the key into giving our strikers life again.

So what do you think? Are Manchester United in need of new strikers or are the lads behind them doing them an injustice?

@Pitchside_Mark

14/15 Team of The Year

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The PFA will be announcing their ‘Team of the Year’ in a matter of days, it is bound the cause some controversy as it does every year, for example the inclusion of Steven Gerrard last season.

We’ve asked a number of people to give their Premier League Team of The Year, we’re going to accumulate the votes and make a ‘Touchline Fracas Team of the Year’, which im sure is bound to change when we do our next Podcast on Friday. But anyway, what the hell, lets get cracking.

@Adje_0 has gone with a 2-3-3 formation because he didnt feel like any Full backs were worthy of his Team of the Year. So his team is Dea Gea, ?, Fonte, Terry, ? Cazorla, Matic, Fabregas, Sanchez, Kane, Hazard.

@Myosapien (Leroy) has gone into tremendous detail for his Team of the Year, he actually should have his own article, but I will briefly summarise his team as best as I can, I’m sure he will elaborate further on the Pod on Friday. Unlike Adje, Leroy has found some Full Backs worth putting in his team using a 4-2-3-1 formation. De Gea, Trippier, Terry (Reliable, Dependant, Solid, Wanker, Rent Boy) Fonte, Cresswell, Schneiderlin, Matic, Sanchez, Cazorla, Hazard and Kane

@Elliskco_I (Ellis) hasn’t taken this exercise seriously I don’t think. He has gone for a 4-2-3-1 with Courtois, Clyne, Skrtel (Yes he has put Prison Break’s Martin Skrtel in, and yes Ellis is a Liverpool fan) Terry, Azpilicueta, Fabregas, Matic, Sanchez, Hazard, Sterling, Costa.

@AliquaScripto (Elijah) brings us back to the realms of sanity with a traditional 4-4-2 of De Gea, Clyne, Fonte, Terry, Bertand, Schneiderlin, Fabregas, Sanchez, Hazard, Costa and Kane.

@BabaMalt (Ayo) continues the trend of a De Gea, Terry, Fonte defence, with Trippier and Bertrand as the Full Backs in a 4-4-2. Sanchez, Matic, Cazorla, Hazard, Kane and Costa

@MrMeeds (Ife) has gone for De Gea, Clyne, Alderweireld, Terry (C) C for Cunt presumably and Azpilicueta. With Matic, Cazorla, Hazard, Sanchez, Costa and Kane  making up the 4-4-2

@JuniorXVII (Junior) De Gea, Clyne, Terry, Fonte, Monreal (the hipster in Junior shineth), Fabregas, Matic, Alexis, Hazard, Aguero and Kane in a 4-4-2

@Pitchside_Mark (Mark) has chosen De Gea, Clyne, Fonte, Terry, Bertrand, Hazard, Schneiderlin, Cazorla, Sanchez, Kane and Aguero in a 4-4-2

Lastly but definitely not least as I am the person who is writing this article, @Lewbob91 (Lewis). I have gone for De Gea, Monreal, Terry, Fonte, Azpilicueta (Yes I know he has played Left Back, but I cant leave Nacho man out), Cazorla, Schneiderlin, Hazard, Sanchez, Kane and Costa in a 4-4-2.

So lets tally up those Votes and come up with a Touchline Fracas Team of the Year.

GK – Dea Gea (8 votes)

RB – Clyne (5 votes), CB – Terry (9 votes), CB – Fonte (7 votes), LB – Azpilicueta/Bertrand (tied on 3 votes)

RW – Sanchez (9 votes), CM – Cazorla (6 votes), CM – Matic (6 votes), LW – Hazard (9 votes)

CF – Costa (5 votes), CF – Kane (8 votes)

Follow all the lads who participated in this article on twitter, aswell as the @TouchlineFracas account.

Contact touchlinefracas@gmail.com for any enquires.

The Man United Front Three

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Over the years, Manchester United have always been renowned for possessing top quality strikers within their ranks. I mean, Eric Cantona, Andy Cole and Ruud Van Nistelrooy are not bad names to have leading various lines right? And that’s just naming a few. The question is though, Rooney aside, what is next for the current crop of United front men?

Robin Van Persie is first name in question. The former Arsenal star is currently sidelined through injury, which has been a prominent trait throughout his career. Prior to his latest setback, Van Persie looked a shadow of the player he once was, often appearing a little disinterested under both David Moyes last year and compatriot Louis Van Gaal this season. Though always dangerous, it seemed a certain sharpness was missing from his game and this has been evident in the fact that the former multiple-time Premier League top scorer has only notched 10 times in 24 appearances this campaign. It has been highly touted that this could be the 31-year old’s final season with the Red Devils, who has reportedly been lined up as a make weight in a deal involving Paul Pogba and the best part of £50m.

Radamel Falcao has been one of the most talked about players in the Premiership for all the wrong reasons. The Colombian has scored a paltry 4 goals so since arriving on loan from Monaco sparking huge debate, whether or not United should opt to make his loan a permanent deal. There is absolutely no doubt that Falcao has the ability to succeed at the top level, as proven for both Porto and Atletico Madrid, but since the serious knee injury that kept him out of the 2014 world cup, he has never really looked the same player. It would be a huge risk for United to pay the £35m to make his switch permanent considering the fact that the likes of Chris Smalling and Ander Herrera have outscored Falcao during this campaign.

United currently have a couple other talented strikers on their books in Javier Hernandez and James Wilson, with the former out on loan. Hernandez has struggled for games during his time at Real Madrid yet has shown glimpses of legitimate quality during his career in Europe. For one reason or another Chicarito has never been given the opportunity to be a first choice marksman since arriving from Mexico in 2010, though he possesses a pretty decent goal scoring record with almost a goal every 4 games. Not too bad for a back up striker. It seems as if Hernandez will also leave Old Trafford with a host of Premiership sides including West Ham and Southampton frequently linked to the Mexican if gossip columns are anything to go by.

James Wilson on the other hand looks to have a future at the Manchester club. The 20-year old featured regularly in the early stages of the season making 12 appearences in the senior side before dropping back down to the reserve team, where he has flourished ever since. Wilson also showed glimpses of a bright future, and Van Gaal’s use of the young front man will only spur him on to return to first-team fold and ignite a potentially successful career for years to come.

With the likelihood of a number of these players departing Old Trafford, there will definitely be some movement in the summer for attacking. And if not,then I guess there’s always the man in form Marouane Fellaini. Not looking so bad after all.

By @BinnzyLohan49

If you too would like to publish your content on our website, contact touchlinefracas@gmail.com or @touchlinefracas on Twitter

Take a listen to this weeks Podcast ‘No Signs of Distress’

Champions League or Championship?

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As the season reaches its climax and with so much yet to be decided, whilst we don’t really have a much desired title race, we seem to have fights everywhere else in the table.

We asked Touchline Fracas Pundits to predict who they feel will be playing in the Champions League next season and who will be playing in the Championship.

@EverydayAlexis

I think, Chelsea, Arsenal, Utd and City
will get top 4, mainly because I think city will get it together and their home form will make sure Liverpool don’t overtake them.

Relegated I think Sunderland, Burnley and Leicester. Mainly because Sunderland have been on a downward spiral since Poyet left and I think it’s their time.

@MarcoReubs 

Top 4 will be Chelsea, Arsenal, United and City. Liverpool and Spurs are too far away to catch City who despite their poor form have the individual quality to stay 4th.

Leicester, Burnley and Hull will go down. These teams don’t have the necessary quality to survive in my opinion. Burnley are well organised but they must turn more draws into wins. QPR and Sunderland will survive by the skin of their teeth.

@Pitchside_Mark

Top 4 will be Chelsea, Utd, Arsenal and City – title seems pretty much a given for Chelsea, picked Utd to finish 2nd just because the momentum and new found confidence and I see Utd beating arsenal at Old Trafford just to pip 2nd, arsenal and City I expect to win more or less the majority of remaining games thus qualifying for the Champions League

Relegation, Sunderland, QPR and Burnley Burnley. I reckon Leicester will escape the drop playing a lot of teams around them at home and I don’t think Burnley have much quality, QPR Jekyll and Hyde and Sunderland are woeful.

@JuniorXVII

Top 4:

With Chelsea limping to the finish line and top 4 veterans Arsenal picking up the pace behind them, the two Manchester clubs are my pick to swallow up the remaining two Champions League places this season. The ‘Talent vs Passion’ duel between City and Liverpool has tended to go in favour of the Merseyside club when the two sides meet of late. City however still have the offensive quality to steam roll their remaining 6 opponents regardless of form, rendering it difficult to see The Reds bridging a four point gap before the season closes.

Bottom 3:

With all 3 newly promoted sides predictably struggling to cope with the Premier League, I predict only one of these three to survive; leaving Burnley QPR and Hull (facing a tough run with United, Spurs Liverpool and Arsenal still to play) to fall back down into the abyss of lower tier football.

@Elliskco_I

I think the top 4 will remain as it is, Chelsea have a manager who is a regular winner of titles, so his experience in that position will come in good stead. But this is football, stranger things have happened, in terms of the top 4, Arsenal and Man Utd are in good form, they will continue till the end, I think arsenal will come 2nd as they seem to have the easier set of fixtures. Man city will finish 4th, they look bereft of confidence and their key players look uninterested and out of form, but having said that, they have too much quality to drop any more points. (Sorry Liverpool fans no Champions League football).

The bottom 3 will contain Leicester, Burnley and Sunderland, all 3 teams are running out of games, they have minimal quality to main a consistent drive out of the relegation zone.

@BabaMalt

Top 4 will stay the same. Liverpool don’t deserve to be in the Champions League spots if they have Henderson taking set plays and their best CM playing centre half.

I’m not sure on whose going down but I hope burnley pull off something miraculous. Done well in games this season and I like their manager and how they work hard for each other. Hull are doomed. Their fixture list is looking like death row. Fans might as well start planning the minibus routes in the championship.

@AliquaScripto 

I think Chelsea, Arsenal and both the Manchester clubs are going to finish in the top four. These teams’ ability to score goals are what separate them currently and I think it will be the telling factor in the end. Liverpool’s top scorer has 7, Spurs don’t get many outside of Kane and Southampton are lacklustre in that department too. Spurs’ defensive problems hold them back too.

Injuries are probably going to consign Hull to the drop along with QPR and Burnley. Leicester have shown good spirit in recent weeks and have 5 home games of their 7 left. I see them putting a run together that will just get them out.

@Swagadore

I think Chelsea, United, City & Arsenal top 4. That’s just me going with the safe most likely bet, because I’m naturally cautious. I think the expectation on all of these 4 teams is to finish top 4 & they have the most to lose if they don’t make it. I think that pressure could bring enough motivation out of the players if these clubs to help them achieve their individual targets.

I can’t lie though. My opinion about the bottom of the table is more useless than Welbecks goal threat. Sorry I can’t be helpful on that account – Swag

@Myosapien

Top 4 Chelsea – miles ahead winners. United picking up form at right time look difficult to beat will prob beat Arsenal at home on this form and finish second. Arsenal form at right time players fit looking good but both teams playing well will prob show old deficiencies tactically and prep wise against a team as good playing as well so will lose to United. City in free fall but have enough to finish top 4 closest contenders will be Liverpool may push city to the line the way the league is lining up especially if City lose to Spurs

Relegation interesting Leicester have most games at home have been competitive all season and play a few teams in an around in some old fashioned 6 pointers some may not be done yet but likely to go down. Sunderland dismal will go down, QPR to go down also and I Hope Burnley stay up if so Dyche manager of the year. Just an Honorary mention to Crystal Palace and Pardew for the miracle turn around

@Lewbob91

Top 4 – Chelsea, United, Arsenal, City. As an Arsenal fan it kills me to say United will finish above us, but maybe I’m just trying reverse psychology. The Top 4 will remain as it is, I just can’t see Liverpool, Spurs or Southampton even, having enough about them to overhaul a free falling City. Current Top 4 for Champions League.

Relegation – Its tough, but I think Sunderland and Hull are in huge trouble at the moment, the fight from Burnley and Leicester will see them safe, which means QPR will be playing Championship football again next season.

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Arsenal Set Piece Problems: But is it just an attacking issue?

 

Manchester United v Arsenal - Premier League

Much has been made in light of Arsene Wenger’s recent comments regarding the need to practice attacking set pieces, with Arsenal consistently having one of the lowest goal conversions from set pieces in the Premier League, just the 13 goals scored from a set piece in the previous 3 seasons. To put that in to some perspective, Manchester City scored 13 goals from corners last season alone, there is clearly a problem that needs some attention in that department.

set piece

However during Arsene Wenger’s tenure at the club there has always been a stereotype attached to Arsenal that they can be got at, by roughing them up and that they are vulnerable from a set piece. As an Arsenal fan nothing drives me crazier than people attaching outdated stereotypes to my football club, especially when they do not apply any more. Last season Arsenal conceded 7 goals from corners and 1 indirect free kick in all competitions. Considering Arsenal played well over 50 games last season I think it’s pretty safe to say that Arsenal are no longer a team that struggles with defending set pieces.  Or is it?

4 goals conceded from set pieces last season worryingly for Arsenal fans came during those crushing away defeats to ‘big teams’. The first 2 corners Arsenal conceded from last season came in the League and Cup games away at West Brom, Claudio Yacob and Saido Behrahino putting Arsenal’s defence to the sword from corners. Next up was the Robin Van Persie header to win Manchester United all 3 points at Old Trafford, that header started a growing trend to follow Arsenal around the country in the ‘big games’ Next up was Aguero’s opener as he capitalised on a lack of concentration from Laurent Koscielny to put City 1-0 up in their 6-3 demolition job. The North of England continued to be an unpleasant place to visit for the gunners as Liverpool scored 2 quick goals from Set pieces, Martin Skrtel finishing from a corner and an indirect free kick inside the first 10 minutes as Liverpool romped to a 5-1 victory. It didn’t stop there however, 2 goals in the opening 8 minutes against Hull in the FA Cup final at Wembley put Arsenal 2-0 down and jeopardised the ending of their 9 year trophy drought. Thankfully a set piece of their own helped Arsenal to a 3-2 victory in that game.

So whilst the stereotype that has surrounded Arsenal over the years where smaller clubs could perhaps capitalise on weaknesses from set pieces against Arsenal may not be true, there definitely does seem to be an issue against the big sides or in big matches.

The first issue we can see with these goals is the timing. 7 of the 8 goals Arsenal conceded from corners and indirect free kicks last season came in the first half, 6 of them coming in the opening 30 minutes, 5 of them in the opening 15 minutes. 7 of the 8 goals conceded from set pieces were actually the first goals of the game, obviously putting Arsenal 1-0 behind. Surely being away from home the last thing you want to do is concede early goals from set pieces. Could this be a preparation issue?

Arsenal last season were not traditionally fast starters, throughout the season they dominated the so called ‘smaller’ teams with possession scoring lots of second half goals as they attempted to barge down the doors of stubborn opposition defences, but often having quite weak first halves as they lacked penetration and intensity in their game. However because Arsenal were winning many of these games not much was made of this. Against higher calibre opposition you are not going to be so lucky. If you start slow you will be punished as we saw in games against Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea.

Not much seems to have changed this year either, Manchester City’s equaliser at the Emirates came from a set piece that Arsenal failed to defend competently, as well as Crystal Palace’s opener on the first game of the season from Brede Hangeland, that goal also came from a corner. Incidentally that was the first goal Arsenal had conceded from a set piece at home over the last 1 and a bit seasons, all 8 conceded came away from home last season, which of course is where we saw Arsenal really struggle. Arsene Wenger admitted more practice is needed in the attacking department of set pieces, but maybe for the big games more attention needs to be given to the defending of set pieces. Just because you get it right against the smaller teams, doesn’t mean the bigger teams can’t still punish you.

Could there be an element of complacency that has developed at Arsenal where they feel an issue has been fixed and thus dedicate less time to it. Much has been made of Wenger’s lack of personal instructions to players, could this also be applied to the defending of set plays? Do Arsenal need specific instructions in these big games on who to mark, who’s going to defend what area etc? Isit a tactical issue, should Arsenal switch to a man to man marking scheme against the bigger sides? But surely if zonal marking can work against everyone else why shouldn’t it work against the top teams.

With not much to choose between the top sides in terms of personnel, the differences in the big games normally come down to individual errors, set pieces and tactical set ups. In the games against the bigger teams we saw an abundance of individual errors in these games, especially in the mauling’s from City, Liverpool and Chelsea, as well as serious question marks raised over the tactical set up of Arsene Wenger’s team. We often hear about the ‘fine margins’ associated with the elite level of the game, and some belittle the use of set pieces. However it’s become apparent that Arsenal has been left behind in this aspect of the game both defensively and offensively, some may say Arsenal has been left behind in quite a few aspects of the game. With Arsenal facing their toughest challenge of the season so far against Chelsea on Sunday, a team who have plenty of aerial strength and fantastic deliverers of the ball, Arsenal will need to be focused from the first minute to avoid another embarrassing defeat.

By @Lewbob91

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The Star of Ruhr Valley – Shinji Kagawa

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A Japanese international who has found a home in the Ruhr District of Germany, Shinji and Dortmund were fated.
At Dortmund he is the favourite prodigal son, even deserting the family won’t diminish the love from the raucous Westfalenstadion faithful, they campaigned for their son to come home and the father of the family Jurgen Klopp happily obliged. Before a usually fierce Ruhr Derby with neighbours from Gelsenkirchen the Blue Samurai further mystified his legend with a very Samurai like prediction, he had the audacity to claim that he would fall one short of a hat-trick and score a brace against Schalke and best of all past Manuel Neuer who was no slouch even back then.

Admittedly,he wasn’t much of a success in England but there were moments, instances that happened and vanished in seconds,you blinked and you missed them. A deftness of touch has been misused but Our Shinji has it, his boot was like a pillow for the ball- it called the ball to his instep and lulled it to sleep, sleep in motion. There were complete performances too, rare but occasionally present. I long admitted Kagawa into my misunderstood genius hall of fame which contains the likes of Berbatov and Jeremy Toulalan, story for another day. When Shinji Kagawa found a team mate on the same wavelength as he was on any particular matchday Manchester United ticked and hummed. There were signs that he had found a willing ally in Juan Mata and the one touch and move football spoke to the inner samurai in Shinji Kagawa and they almost blossomed, but it wouldn’t be right for that to happen to the favourite son of the Ruhr, it wasn’t fated.

A belated ode to the man I willed to succeed at United till I realised that I was being selfish with him, it’s just that he was so lovable, so good you could see the talent struggling to be unleashed but that would be like letting the Hulk release his magnificent powers in a colony of ants. The one game he will always be remembered for is that against Norwich and boy wasn’t he on song, he pressed, passed, scored and every time he was on the ball there was an air of expectancy around Old Trafford, edge of the seat stuff, that afternoon he was the conductor of an Orchestra and the theater of dreams was his opera house, he conducted and the team produced beautiful music though in hindsight only Wayne Rooney danced to his music, his other team mates were all in awe and appreciated that they were witnessing something special that afternoon, a one-off sadly as was most of his career in England. Shinji Kagawa’s second goal was the most breath taking goal I’ve ever seen at Old Trafford not in its beauty or range, they’ve been better, it’s simplicity and execution was mind numbing, the presence of mind to dummy and change body position and just side foot it into an empty net with a subtleness of movement and grace barely noticeable, all the defenders and goalkeeper sprawled in the opposite direction anticipating a less cultured player’s attempt.

When he left I was sad and a bit teary but I was also very happy, the romantic in me was triumphant even, the Star of the Ruhr much like what the Wise men saw was always bound to rest where it was fated, Dortmund is Shinji Kagawa’s Bethlehem, Signal Iduna Park his manger and Jurgen Klopp his footballing father, the Dortmund faithful got their wish and more, their favourite son has come back a man, the star of the Ruhr is home.

By @CJSonofAnarchy

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Premier League Team Of The Season So Far?

WhoScored.com operate a feature that calculates the team of the week/month/season so far using their intricate player ratings system. You can find out more about the player ratings system WhoScored uses by listening to our interview with Editor In Chief Ali Tweedale here.

Whoscored have gone with this team as their Premier League team of the season so far. Do you Agree?

whoscored tots

 

Some notable inclusions in there that would surely be up for debate. Phil Jones? Gael Clichy? Surely, names such as Bertrand and Fonte deserve a mention before those two. Possibly some of the Burnley back line also.

Can’t argue much with the midfield, although it’s a bit suspect that Ulloa is in midfield, not sure how that works. Lets just pretend we’re playing 4-2-4. Fabregas & Schneiderlin have been superb, as has Hazard. Some honourable mentions could have been Sigurdsson, Dyer or Tadic possibly.

Maybe we could include one of the above, if we remove Pelle, who has been on fire to be fair, but take him out and put UIloa up top to make room for another midfielder.

Are there any other players that have been missed out of the Premier League team of the season so far?

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Using the #HashTag #TouchlineFracas

Arsenal v Dortmund Review

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Preface

What a… Yesterday night Arsenal…. It was a lesson… As you can see, Dortmund’s pressing last night was so convincing that even I’m finding it hard to get any words out. Credit to the impressive Dortmund, who bestowed onto Arsenal an unbridled masterful game of how to play football. Dortmund were hungry, and Arsenal were taken to the slaughterhouse.

If Arsene Wenger and Jürgen Klopp were all chummy and in awe of each other before the match, then after the match, I’m sure Wenger planned some sort of excuse to omit himself from his post-game rendezvous with the ever-ebullient Klopp.

The Match Report

Losing to Dortmund at the Signal Iduna Park is no shame. However, producing the same old flaccid performance against the bigger teams more or less restores that shameful equilibrium.

The scoreline finished 2-0 to Dortmund, but you could’ve fooled me. Dortmund’s concurrent attacks resembled a swarm of killer bees protecting it’s nest, that nest being the Signal Iduna Park. Arsenal couldn’t handle their stings, nor could they handle the ball. They flipped and flopped with it like a piping hot potato, where Dortmund moved the ball like the Harlem Globetrotters. And they did so without so many key absentees.

The warning signs were clear from minute one; bright red, flashing lights, signalling to Houston that we have a problem. Arsenal’s best player on the pitch was not of anyone wearing an Arsenal jersey. No, it was the Armenian, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who squandered so many of his chances, keeping the scoreline somewhat respectable.

Despite, the myriads of chances Dortmund created, the scoreline was still ominously 0-0. However, you just knew that Arsenal couldn’t uphold this homemade wall of luck. This inevitability was later solidified when Danny Welbeck fluffed a rare Arsenal chance; a chance he really should have scored. The goal was coming, and it did come, from an Arsenal set-piece – shock!

The ball somehow found its way to Ciro Immobile on the halfway line. As he turned, he was suddenly faced with a 2-on-1 situation. He was shepherded towards the Arsenal area under no real threat, beat Koscienly with a fortunate piece of mis-control, and then fired it across Wojciech Szczęsny. Dortmund were up 1-0 on the stroke of halftime, the worse possible time to concede.

All hopes of Arsenal coming out to the second half with a point to prove were quickly and effectively disposed of. The second goal came straight after the second half kicked off. Kevin Großkreutz played Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang through – who’s pace was a perennial problem for the Arsenal back line – who then rounded an on-rushing Szczęsny, and fired home the second.

The second goal took the sting out Arsenal and the game. Dortmund sat back and afforded Arsenal more of the ball. Apart from a few more squandered Danny Welbeck chances, and an APB out on Podolski’s missing shin pad, Dortmund played a game close to “perfection”, described by Jurgen Klopp, under no real duress.

Where Is Our Patrick Vieira?

It was another sell-out crowd for the traditional, ‘The Big Game, No Show’ performance provided by Arsenal. The Arsenal midfield was overpowered in every possible facet. New Arsenal captain, Mikel Arteta produced a performance that paid even more credibility towards Wenger’s inability to buy a defensive midfielder as a sacrilegious one.

Wenger has adopted a new formation this season of 4-1-4-1, which has been met with a lot of pessimism from fans. Perhaps this preemptive action was to negate the funnelling Arsenal faced against the big teams last season. However, on the back of last night’s one-sided performance that assumption can be put to bed. The fact is, this formation depends highly on a fully capable defensive midfielder, which Arsenal don’t have, and haven’t had since Patrick Vieira left in 2005.

Between Mathieu Flamini, who has the hunger and passion in abundance, but lacks the discipline, and Arteta, who may have the discipline but not the legs to provide adequate protection for the defence, you can wonder why Arsenal fans have screamed for Callum Chambers to be moulded into that role. An outcry that I find a little ill-advised, but surely a decision that cannot be any worse than what is on offer now.

Özil Hung Out To Dry, Again

If I had never watched Mesut Özil play football before, and someone told me Arsenal had payed their club record, £42 million for him – on the back of last night – I would have Wenger live out his remaining years in a mental home. Özil’s return to German was his worse game I’ve ever seen him play. It was eerily Space Jam-esque, and it’s almost heartbreaking to see a player so devoid of confidence.

The new 4-1-4-1 formation has made the infamous “number 10” role obsolete. On paper Özil is penciled in on the flanks, but watching him, he often spends most of his game drifting infield. So suggesting that he isn’t playing well because he is out on the flanks is amateurish.

The fact is, Özil is not in form, and hasn’t been for a while. Wenger has been at Özil’s side fighting his battle for a long time now. But, I think that it is in his best interest and the club’s best interest to sit Özil out for a couple of games. Give Oxlade-Chamberlain a lengthy run in the side.

The Final Say

Not the ideal start to a Champions League campaign. Dortmund brought their A game, but thankfully forgot their shooting boots. These spineless performances cannot go unnoticed.

Arsenal’s next game sees them travel up to Aston Villa, who sit second in the table. A win there won’t mask the horror that was on show last night, but will make things more viewable. For now, it is a Nightmare on Elm Street, and this fight with their demons continues.

Ratings

Wojciech Szczęsny – 6

Hector Bellerin – 6

Per Mertesacker – 6

Laurent Koscienly – 7

Kieran Gibbs – 6

Mikel Arteta – 4

Jack Wilshere – 7

Aaron Ramsey – 5

Mesut Özil – 4

Alexis Sanchez – 6

Danny Welbeck – 6

– Words by Yvens Tiamou –