Tag Archives: Manchester City

Mourinho has lost his shine and been left behind

Mourinho in crisis mode? ... all rights are reserved for this image ©

Mourinho in crisis mode? … all rights are reserved for this image ©

By Manish Pandey.

All it takes is one bad week at a club like Manchester United and the doom and gloom sets in. A club the stature of Manchester United should not be having a week where they lose 3 games in a row.

Yet it has happened. More than the outcome, it is the way in which such a week has unfolded which is troubling. Full of optimism before the derby, there is now a feeling of impending crisis at the club with Mourinho at the centre of that.

Paul Pogba has not produced. Wayne Rooney looks finished. Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s performances have deteriorated. There is little defensive discipline. And yes, Jose Mourinho has started to publicly criticise his players.

An argument can be made that it is too early to make any kind of judgement on Mourinho at United. However, the signs at the moment, are not encouraging at all. Mourinho’s powers look to be on the wane.

Mourinho at the minute, resembles a man who is not in control. He seems startled at the size of the club and the job in hand. He has shown no clarity in decision making.

Mourinho at his peak- between 2004-2010- was a man who knew what he wanted. He had a formula for success. Defensive discipline, tactical awareness and a powerful team which had control of the game. He was the man who was the banker in the big games.

Currently, it is the complete opposite. There is no set way of United playing football. For a man who many thought had plans ranging from A-Z – there now seems to be no Plan A. At best, United have been a long ball team. Long balls against City, Feyenoord and Watford represent a hopeful strategy.

Defensively, United look even more susceptible than they did under Louis van Gaal. There seems to be a real lack of organisation. Not something associated with a Jose Mourinho team.

Ruthlessness. A trait in many Mourinho teams and the manager himself. The team have been far from ruthless, not taking the few chances they’ve created. The manager has shown himself to being weak by persisting with Wayne Rooney.

Rooney has had a great career and still has much to offer. Without doubt, however, the time has come for Rooney to increasingly offer his services from the bench and not the starting XI. There are players who are better equipped to doing what Mourinho is currently asking of Rooney, and players who are in far better form than Rooney.

The Rooney problem is small relative to the wider problems at the club, but is perhaps symbolic. His power at the club is so great than managers since Sir Alex Ferguson seem unable to reduce his role.

Instead of trying to shoehorn his captain into the team, Mourinho needs to do what is best for the team. Rooney is not the best in any position that he plays, of the players available.

Mourinho needs to take a look across Manchester and see how Pep Guardiola has created his Man City team.

Guardiola came in with a set of ideas, a system he prefers and he chose the players best suited to that system. That meant no place for Joe Hart, Yaya Toure or Samir Nasri. Formidable footballers, but not part of Guardiola’s thinking.

On the contrary, Mourinho is the man with no plan. He has shuffled his starting XI often, showing no idea of knowing what his best team is. There is no idea as to what his best centre-back partnership is, what the best midfield combination is, nor who his best wingers are. These are significant areas of the pitch.

Muddled decision making has been best displayed in the derby and against Watford. Jesse Lingard and Henrikh Mkhitaryan were brought into the derby despite the fact that they had barely played any football all season. They looked off the pace and were subbed at half-time.

Against Watford, Mourinho played Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford, despite the fact that they had played just 3 days earlier. Memphis Depay came on for Luke Shaw at left-back in the closing stages. Baffling.

Michael Carrick has not played a single second of football this season. What was the point of him signing a 1 year extension?

Increasingly, Mourinho’s demeanour is now resembling that of a Mourinho who is in the midst of a meltdown. We have seen it before at Real Madrid and Chelsea.

The blame of the referees. The public shaming of his players. The lack of taking responsibility himself. An inability to understand medical welfare (his reaction to Anthony Martial’s injury was bizarre).

Mourinho of old, on the way up, made players love him. Now he expects them to obey him. Criticising players publicly can be dangerous and can impact dressing room morale.

He no longer has the shine of the old Mourinho. The charming man, who was cocksure and so full of self-belief. His antics whereas entertaining before, now seem tiresome and boring.

Now he seems full of self-doubt and negativity. The reasons behind this can be seen through his tactics, and more deeper, his time in Spain.

His experience of Spain has undoubtedly dented his confidence and belief.

Mourinho prior to his time at Real Madrid, was the leading tactician in the world. He had a script and the game would often play to that script.

At Real Madrid, however, he encountered a challenge and a foe which has left him badly bruised and feeling tactically vulnerable. That foe being Barcelona and Pep Guardiola in particular.

Guardiola’s brand of football has been revolutionary in the modern day. Many have said it was due to having Xavi, Iniesta and Messi that he was successful. But just looking at the way his teams have played subsequently at Bayern Munich and currently at Manchester City, it is clear that his idea of football is something great.

The football has been scintillating. It has been attacking, striving for perfection. It has been a style of football that makes Mourinho look outdated.

Mourinho never found a solution. He tried very hard, putting Pepe in midfield, tinkering with the tempo and fluidity of the game. Never did he find a way to overcome which would work. We saw it in the derby. It looked like City had 15 men on the pitch they were finding that much space.

There is no doubt that Mourinho is less effective now than before 2010. His main success came within 6 years (2004-2010), at a time when Europe moved to a more defensive brand of football. Since then, a return to a more attacking mindset has seen Mourinho win only 2 titles this decade.

The other super-coaches in the premier league, Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp and Antonio Conte have a fresh energy about them- much like Mourinho did when he first arrived in England.

The teams they manage also play with positive energy, looking to attack and score goals. In contrast, Mourinho seems old, tired and yesterday’s news.

Even the title that Mourinho won with Chelsea in 2015 was not a typical Mourinho title. He did not storm the league and charge over the finishing line, rather limped to success. Within that, his dealings in the transfer market left much to be desired.

Of course it is dangerous to write off a coach with the CV of Mourinho. It is key to remember that most coaches (with the exception of Sir Alex Ferguson) enjoy 10 years of greatness. The game moves on fast.

Mourinho is resembling Roy Hodgson more than he is vintage Jose Mourinho.

He needs to find his best team. He needs to get the best out of Pogba. He needs to build positivity, not negativity amongst his squad. He needs to be ruthless and drop players out of form. He needs to increase the energy and intensity of the team. He needs to do this fast.

14 defeats in his last 32 games suggest a deeper issue with Mourinho, one which should cause concern for Manchester United fans.

 

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Premier League Preview: 2016-2017

It is time for the football…all rights are reserved for this image ©

By Manish Pandey.

Arsenal:

It has been a typical summer for Arsenal. A promising signing in Granit Xhaka but relative inactivity which has fans tearing their hair out. Many are predicting Arsenal to be the team to falter this season, in the wake of the summer resurgences of Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea. Yet Arsenal always find a way. In statistical terms, they have improved league position season on season, finishing in 2nd last season despite never really being in the title race. A natural progression to 1st then?

Well, football does not work in such a way. Arsenal need to invest. A central defender is a must- it was essential even before the injuries to Per Mertesacker and Gabriel – it is even more crucial now. They most certainly need a striker. Arsene Wenger last season said Arsenal lacked goals. However, he is unwilling to invest big money in a big player. Money in a Lacazette or a Higuain or a Morata. Arsenal have eye-watering bank reserves of £159 million – what are they waiting for?

This is also Wenger’s last year of his 3 year contract, so it will be interesting to see how he copes with the inevitable questions about his future. They have a good team and a good squad and like seasons gone by, they are not far away. They have an excellent midfield, which will be reinforced with the midfield steel and guile of Xhaka, along with the in form Aaron Ramsey and the returning Santi Cazorla from injury.

The one thing in Arsenal’s favour is the stability they have. The other clubs that will be competing with them will need time to get used to new managers and new playing styles which could mean a slow start to the season. If Arsenal get it right at the start, they will be very dangerous.

Bournemouth:

Bournemouth not only survived, but they survived in some style, playing some of the most attractive football in the league. With style came hard work. They squashed the myth that technical players do not need to work hard and they put in tireless performances week after week. Tactically astute, this was a successful season for Eddie Howe.

In some ways, the second season for newly promoted teams can be tougher than the first season. No more the air of freshness, now they will have been figured out and will be presented with new challenges. They will need to come up with a Plan B – something they lacked last season. They have lost two key players in Tommy Elphick and Matt Ritchie. However, as is the way with Eddie Howe, he is relentless, obsessive and will not stay still.

Bournemouth have had an effective transfer window so far. Lys Mousset for £5.4m from Le Havre (the same club which nurtured Paul Pogba, Dimitri Payet and Riyad Mahrez) is a promising player. Brad Smith and Jordan Ibe from Liverpool and Lewis Cook all represent promising signings which will cause problems for opponents.

Callum Wilson will return from injury and Howe will hope that he can lead the line and stay fit. A problem for Bournemouth last season was the lack of organisation and solidity in the backline. For Bournemouth to improve on their 16th place finish last season, they will need to plug the hole in the leaky defence.

Burnley:

It is hard enough to survive in the Premier League with a strengthened squad from the Championship, but Burnley are currently weaker than they were last season. They have lost Joey Barton and Michael Duff among others, and have added very little.

They do not just need to spend money to improve, they need to spend money to survive. The last time they were in the Premier League, they spent little and were relegated with 2 games to spare. However, in Sean Dyche, they have a manager who is willing to drag his team to safety. He is called the ‘Ginger Mourinho’ for a reason.

Dyche’s 4-4-2 could either be boom or bust. 4-4-2 has made a comeback in football with many teams and defenders being unable to defend against 2 strikers. However, it is also quite easy to attack against a 4-4-2 if the defenders are not able to defend in 1v1 situations. This explains Burnley’s desire for Michael Keane.

Burnley should have more goals in this team than they did the last time around. Andre Gray and George Boyd should score enough goals between them to give Burnley a fighting chance of staying afloat.

They currently have a thin squad. There is still time to improve and add depth and quality to the current squad. In order to squeak to safety, Burnley will need to use the final few weeks of the transfer window wisely.

Chelsea:

It was an extremely disappointing 2015-16 season for Chelsea. The worst ever defence of a title in history. It was a season which cost Jose Mourinho his job just 7 months after winning the title. Now, under Antonio Conte, they will seek to return to the levels they have been at in the years gone by.

Conte and Chelsea will be feeling quietly confident. They know that in Conte they have a master tactician and man manager who is on a high from the Euros and has a tremendous managerial record. The exploits of the two Manchester clubs in the summer also makes Chelsea the dark horses. The team that not many are focusing on. The lack of attention will suit Conte whilst he tries to convey and implement his ideas.

Conte will need to improve the performances of the under-performing players of last season – in particular Eden Hazard, Branislav Ivanovic and Nemanja Matic. Hazard looks to be sharp again and willing to perform. He is a manager who appreciates experience so will be keen to use John Terry. However, Terry no longer has the same mobility of old which makes the signing of N’Golo Kante a very good one. Kante was the best midfielder in the league last season.

Conte is an attacking manager who uses his defence as the first step of attack. He will likely deploy a 4-2-4 formation, with Matic/Fabregas and Kante holding, allowing the 4 attackers – including new £33 million signing Michy Batshuayi – to be set free. Playing with 2 strikers is something Conte favours, seen in his work at Italy and Juventus. This also explains why he is so keen to add another striker to his ranks, either Alvaro Morata or Romelu Lukaku.

Conte cannot take too long to make his mark, or he could find himself as a victim of Chelsea’s notorious managerial axe. Should he inspire and drive his team on like he did with Italy over the summer, Chelsea could be serious challengers.

Crystal Palace:

Crystal Palace started last season in a promising manner. Yet come the back-end of the season, they were sliding down the table rapidly. They will now need to strengthen and Alan Pardew will need to come up with a formula to ensure a consistent season for Palace.

From Boxing Day 2015, they won only 2 games from 21. That is simply not good enough.

Injuries to Yannick Bolasie, Jason Puncheon, James McArthur and Connor Wickham last season derailed them, therefore the need to beef up the squad is evident. The enigma that is Bolasie seems to be on the way to Everton.

They have lacked goalscoring forwards in recent years, a problem they have recognised and tried to solve. They have more money to spend thanks to the new TV deal, with a club record transfer for Andros Townsend and a bid of over £30 million for Michy Batshuayi. They have attempted to sign Christian Benteke, Saido Berahino and Diafra Sakho. They need to act cleverly to ensure they find a solution to the striking woes and do not just place bids without substance.

The arrivals of Steven Mandanda and James Tomkins will help add experience to the squad.

Pardew has attempted to introduce a new system in pre-season with a 3-4-1-2. If Pardew can sign some good quality strikers such as Benteke or Sakho, they will go a long way to achieving a much improved finish this season.

Everton:

Ronald Koeman has taken over from Roberto Martinez and this season promises to be an excellent season for Everton. The last week has seen tremendous progress on the transfer front for Everton.

Yannick Bolasie and Lamine Kone seem to be on the way to Merseyside to join Ashley Williams, Maarten Stekelenburg and Idrissa Gueye as known names in. John Stones has left for Manchester City and there is still a question mark over Romelu Lukaku’s future, yet everything seems to be calm at a club where chaos was the buzzword last season. The Koeman Effect.

In Koeman they have a manager with Premier League experience, tactical nous and an attractive playing style. He exudes calm and flourished at Southampton at a time when everybody was writing them off.

Gerard Deulofeu has been playing up front in pre-season, which suggests he has a key role to play this season. He has the talent, now he has to show his consistency at the highest level.

Huge credit should be given to new owner Farhad Moshiri. He has restructured the club and given them the intent to succeed. A new Director of Football was brought in- Steve Walsh from Leicester City – the same man who brought in Kante, Mahrez and Vardy.

Koeman will bring a new style to Goodison Park. They will be more direct, more pressing from the front, greater intensity all round and with more physical presence. All things missing under Martinez. It will take time, but with Koeman, Walsh and Moshiri, Everton are building something big.

Hull City:

Unless something drastically changes in the last few weeks of the transfer window, Hull City are a certainty to be relegated. They are a mess. They are weaker than they were in the Championship.

Inactivity in the transfer market has led to the resignation of Steve Bruce. The owner Assem Alam is seriously ill with his son falling out with Bruce. It has been a strange pre-season with Hull struggling to find enough players to field a full team.

They have no successor to Bruce. They have lost Chuba Akpom, Isaac Hayden, Mohamed Diame, Sone Aluko, and Ryan Taylor. Incomings have been scarce.

Hull City have concocted a perfect cocktail for relegation. Nobody will be surprised if they end up back in the Championship.

Leicester City:

The reigning Premier League Champions. Words I never thought I would ever be writing when writing about Leicester City. They are the team to beat. They have looked good in pre-season and have made some clever signings to bolster a squad that also has the added joy of competing in the Champions League.

They have lost N’Golo Kante, but have crucially managed to retain Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez so far. The core of the team remains the same.

The acquisitions of Ahmed Musa and Nampalys Mendy provides speed, power and energy – all traits of the successful Leicester side from last season. Mendy in particular looks like another Kante with his speed across the ground and robustness in tackling.

Leicester have a better squad than last season, with more depth thanks to the incomings. Things could be even better if the likes of Demarai Gray and Daniel Amartey progress at the expected level.

The big challenge will be defensively. Can Leicester repeat the defensive solidity of last season? Can Wes Morgan, Robert Huth, Christian Fuchs and Danny Simpson repeat the same disciplined performances as last season? The signing of Luis Hernandez is a shrewd one as he adds defensive cover but also has a long throw which can be used as an attacking option.

The big thing in Leicester’s favour is the stability they currently enjoy. They have not needed a huge makeover or transitional summer, unlike their rivals. They may not win the league again, but they will certainly provide a stiff challenge.

Liverpool:

Liverpool are well placed under Jurgen Klopp in their transitional process. He is used to the tempo of the league and has had a good transfer window so far.

Klopp has managed to restore belief at the club and he has an aura about him. His charisma and work ethic is endearing to the players who look as though they are willing to run through walls for him.

The lack of European football will favour Liverpool this season because of the high energy, high intensity and high pressing game Klopp will employ. The extra time on the training field will allow them to understand the tactical detail behind the high energy system.

Liverpool do not have a world-class player in their squad, but under Klopp, this does not matter so much. It is more about the collective than the individual for him. They have added pace in Sadio Mane, calmness in Marko Grujic, defensive depth in Ragnar Klavan and Joël Matip and power in midfield through Georginio Wijnaldum. They still need to address the situation at left-back where there is no real quality presently.

Liverpool have a tough opening 5 fixtures in Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur, Leicester City and Chelsea. They will need to be ready and switched on to avoid a bad start.

Whilst Liverpool do not have the same quality as their rivals, they can still make life difficult and a top 4 finish is very much on the cards.

Manchester City:

They have long coveted Pep Guardiola. Now they have Pep Guardiola. The best coach in the world is in the Premier League and is at Manchester City.

There seems to be a long-term approach at City with the arrival of Guardiola. In order for City to gain success once more, Guardiola has a lot of work ahead of him and lots of changes to make.

City have a good group of players with some genuine world-class talent in Sergio Aguero, Kevin de Bruyne, David Silva and Vincent Kompany (when fit). The signings of  Ilkay Gündogan, Leroy Sané and Nolito increase midfield and forward options, with the signing of John Stones bolstering the backline.

In Aguero, City are guaranteed goals. If he stays fit for the whole season, he will get over 30 goals. Big concerns however, remain over Joe Hart, Kompany’s fitness and Raheem Sterling’s form and confidence. These are key players for Guardiola so it will be interesting to see how Guardiola approaches these problems.

There have already been signs in pre-season that City have struggled with Guardiola’s possession philosophy of passing out from the back. It will be a challenge for Guardiola to cope with this new league, the pace of the league, the tempo and the physicality.

If the City players can learn quickly enough what Guardiola wants, they will be successful. However, big doubts remain over whether he can do that with this group.

Manchester United:

They have had a 3 years to forget since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement. Now, with Jose Mourinho in the hotseat, there can be no excuses. He is an elite level coach. He won the title just 2 seasons ago. United have bought well in the summer transfer window too.

The signings of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba give United personality and power. They have an aura about them. Some call it arrogance, but they call it confidence in their abilities. Proven players and proven winners. How they adapt to the Premier League will be their biggest test.

In Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Eric Bailly, they have creativity and defensive potential. Mkhitaryan was a star in the Bundesliga, recognised by his fellow professionals. Bailly has put in terrific performances in La Liga, against the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

The big conundrum is Wayne Rooney. What is his best position? Mourinho has indicated that he will be playing the No 10 position, just behind Ibrahimovic. Does he still have the legs to play such a role? By having both Rooney and Ibrahimovic central, United lack pace. There is a lot of pressure on Mkhitaryan and Anthony Martial to provide speed and creativity.

The return of Luke Shaw will provide United with balance on the left, as his speed can cover both going forward and backwards. United still lack a world-class centre half. Chris Smalling will again carry the burden of defensive discipline, so his fitness will be crucial.

They should compete for the title. They should win a trophy. Mourinho will get time and will have a honeymoon period. But he will know better than anyone, results matter and they will need to come fast.

Middlesbrough:

In Aitor Karanka, Boro have a man who knows what he wants and he is not afraid to upset people. He had a furious row in March and was away from the club. Then he returned and they achieved promotion. His summer transfers have been exciting and give Boro a good chance of survival.

Marten de Roon represents a tough tackler from the Italian league. Victor Valdes provides undoubted class in goal. Alvaro Negredo is a proven goalscorer who will be looking to prove his doubters in England wrong. Fabio da Silva will provide energy and bravery.

Karanka will prefer a 4-4-2 formation, although in pre-season he has shown signs of flexibility, switching to a looser version in a 4-2-3-1 formation. The partnership of Gaston Ramirez behind Negredo will be interesting to watch. Both are highly skilled, but can they do it in the toughest league of all.

Boro’s strength last season was their defence. They will seek to keep the same solidity as last season, but will face a much tougher test facing the attacks of the Premier League. Boro will look to get Dani Ayala back to fitness as quickly as possible.

Middlesbrough will fight and with the investment of the summer, they should survive. However, it has been many years since they were last in the Premier League, so as a newly promoted team, they will find it tough.

Southampton:

They have been written off summer after summer because of summer after summer of upheaval. Could this finally be the season where they fall or will the arrival of Claude Puel be exactly what they need.

They have lost some very good and important players. Sadio Mane and Graziano Pelle in particular, along with Victor Wanyama will give a big loss to the Southampton ranks. The incomings of youngsters Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg from Bayern Munich and Nathan Redmond will refresh the midfield and forward line. There are high hopes in particular for Hojbjerg.

Southampton have always said, it is not the manager on whom the club is dependent on, it is the structures already put in place. The academy, transfer policy, scouting network and training facilities.

Puel has a reputation a process driven manager, who gives youth a chance and plays attractive football. He had a good spell with Nice, finishing in 4th place with few resources. He does not need to change much.

The structures are in place. They will likely play a 4-2-3-1 formation. They have a solid defensive line, with Ryan Bertrand an accomplished fullback, Fraser Forster solid in goal, Virgil van Dijk and Jose Fonte striking a good partnership at the back. More will be expected from Oriol Romeu and Jordy Clasie. Dusan Tadic is highly effective providing 7 goals and 12 assists.

Goalscoring could be a huge problem with the loss of Pelle and Mane. A lot of pressure will be on Shane Long and Charlie Austin to come up with the goods.

Southampton should finish in the top half of the table. They will need to cope with the added demands of the Europa League so will need to strengthen even further before the window closes. If Puel can follow his predecessors, Southampton are in for a good season.

Stoke City:

Stoke are in very good shape to achieve something big. They have quality in the midfield and forward areas with genuine matchwinners in Marko Arnautovic, Xherdan Shaqiri and Bojan.

They have issues in the defensive areas but in Mark Hughes they have a manager who knows what to do. He has guided Stoke to 3 consecutive top 10 finishes, for the first time in history. He has done so playing attractive football with flair players.

They do need a top quality striker. For all the flair of the players above, they need someone to make use of the creativity and put the ball in the back of the net.

Joe Allen coming in should add some creativity and reinforce the midfield options and depth.  Ramadan Sobhi will add flair to the attackers with a wide variety of tricks and creativity.

On paper, this team should be scoring goals. They need to add defensive solidity if they are to improve on the 9th placed finish of last season. Some investment in defensive areas should go a long way to improving Stoke.

They have the ingredients for success, but they have to show it on the pitch.

Sunderland:

David Moyes is now in the hotseat at Sunderland. The 7th man to take that hotseat in 5 years. There is no stability at the club and they are one of the favourites to be relegated.

Moyes is an honest and sincere manager, who brings discipline and effectiveness. Yet he will need to splash the cash in the transfer market if he is to keep this side up. There is a serious lack of quality across the pitch.

Yann M’Vila and DeAndre Yedlin have returned to their clubs which means Moyes has a weaker squad than Sam Allardyce last season.

The signing of Adnan Januzaj on a season long loan is a boost in attacking areas, with more service for Jermaine Defoe. Defoe is the key. He scores goals for fun and if supplied correctly, he can keep Sunderland up.

Moyes will aim to be the first manager in a long time to stay the full season at Sunderland. If he can do that, it will have been a successful season for Sunderland. Looking at Moyes from his Everton days, a transformation of Sunderland will take time.

Swansea City:

Swansea are not in a great state to improve on last season’s 12th place finish. The late sales of Andre Ayew and Ashley Williams could have a devastating effect.

However, they have signed world cup winner Fernando Llorente and Borja Bastón. This is a big move for Swansea. Two fowards with undoubted quality, especially in the air.

With Jefferson Montero, Wayne Routledge, Nathan Dyer and Modou Barrow on the wings, they will be expected to beat a man and cross the ball in for the new 6ft forwards in the box.

In Gylfi Sigurdsson they have a creative master who is also able to contribute with goals and assists. He is the key man for Swansea if they are to have any type of chance of competing this season. Leroy Fer will add energy in midfield, although there are question marks over Ki Sung-yueng after his military summer in South Korea.

Francesco Guidolin has yet to prove himself as manager. Many are attributing his success at keeping Swansea up last season down to luck. The atmosphere around Swansea does not seem the same as a few years ago. Guidolin has a lot to do to prove himself.

Tottenham Hotspur:

Mauricio Pochettino’s men were so close yet so far last season in their pursuit for the title. The way of playing and the preparation they put in for each match puts them in good stead for this season.

Pochettino is an obsessive and his decisions are driven by beliefs about football. He has long identified Victor Wanyama as a transfer target and he finally landed his man this summer. Wanyama will bring power and energy to the Tottenham team.

Vincent Janssen is an intelligent striker and gives Tottenham more depth up front. Harry Kane looked exhausted by the end of the season.

Pochettino has driven a serious work ethic into the team, putting to the front the idea of team work. There are no individual egoistic stars. It is all about the team. It is this mentality which will lead Tottenham into a position of success.

The team play with a very high intensity and aggression. They have a solid mentality and a never-say-die attitude, always believing they can come back in a match. That is the work of the manager.

The structure and foundations that Pochettino has built are there. They have to perform now to show they are real A Team players.

Watford:

Quique Sanchez Flores has departed and Watford’s policy of managerial changes has continued. Walter Mazzarri has taken over and brought his unique style to Watford.

They have done well to hold on to strike duo Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo. The two will be crucial to Mazzarri’s plans as he plans to switch to a 3-5-2 formation.

They have added many centre backs and wing backs in order to cope with the demands of playing 3-5-2. Christian Kabasele, Juan Camilo Zúñiga and Brice Dja Djédjé have arrived to bolster the backline.

Watford have an extremely hard list of fixtures to begin with. The first five league games include visits to Southampton and West Ham as well as home matches against Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United.

Watford have a changed manager and a changed squad. Therefore it will be difficult for them to survive this season. Many wrote them off last season and they proved doubters wrong. It will take a considerable amount of Mazzarri’s tactical nous to ensure safety for Watford.

West Bromwich Albion:

With a new owner comes a new set of expectations.

A positive for West Brom is that Tony Pulis stays. He has a great track record of keeping clubs up and his pragmatic style can work wonders. Will this be enough for the new owner?

They have a wonderful defensive record but a woeful goalscoring effort. With the Pulis style, this is not so surprising. They failed to score in 13 of their 38 games last season.

There is a lot of pressure on Salomón Rondón to perform consistently through the season. He will surely need some help to ease the goalscoring burden.

Pulis has spoken of needing at least 5 more players. The saga of Saido Berahino has continued and could leave Pulis without another striker if he finally completes a move away.

Jeffrey Schlupp is rumoured to be joining West Brom, he will add some much-needed pace and energy going forward.

If they can continue getting draws and the odd win, West Brom should meet the magic 40 points mark. Pulis has a wonderful record, he knows how to survive.

West Ham United:

New stadium. 60,000 fans each week. West Ham are on the way to big club status with some very savvy commercial deals and business acumen behind the scenes. It is on the pitch though, which will decide West Ham’s future.

They had a wonderful season last season. Slaven Bilic has instilled a winning mentality into the club. They no longer fear the bigger clubs. They beat the big clubs. They play fast, aggressive football. They are no longer a yoyo club.

Yet this season, they face challenges. Adapting to the new stadium, coping with the Europa League, coping with a slightly depleted squad in the early part of the season. All these things matter and how Bilic uses his squad will be key.

They have made some shrewd investments in the transfer market. Manuel Lanzini is now a permanent player, Sofiane Feghouli is a clever winger, Gokhan Tore is another winger who offers depth, Havard Nordtveit in midfield will add protection to the back 4 and Arthur Masuaku is a flying full back.

Keeping them fit and rotating will be vital for Bilic. Ultimately, the form and fitness of the spine of the team will determine how this season will go.

Adrian, Winston Reid, Mark Noble, Dimitri Payet and Andy Carroll are the key men. If they remain consistent through the season, West Ham should earn a top 8 finish.

 

Premier League 2015-2016: Team by Team Preview:

The Premier League begins…all rights are reserved for this image ©

By Manish Pandey.

Arsenal:

They are the team who are fancied by many to lift the trophy this year. Last season, they got over the mental hurdle of struggling in the big games with wins at the Etihad and Old Trafford (FA Cup), and they have started this season with a Community Shield victory over Chelsea. They have strengthened in goal with the signing of Petr Cech from Chelsea, a signing which brings leadership, experience and class. Arsenal have a strong team, with the only visible weakness being in the strikers department, with no recognised world class striker. There is also a question mark over defensive midfield, with this season being the key season for Francis Coquelin to prove he is the real deal. The signing of a world class striker such as Karim Benzema would make Arsenal the favourites to lift the trophy. Arsenal’s success also depends much on the injury record, with Jack Wilshere already ruled out of the start of the season.

Key man- Alexis Sanchez- his form will be important in deciding Arsenal’s form, with his speed and creativity resulting in high level output. Can he better his 16 goals and 8 assists from last season?

Predicted finish: 2nd

Aston Villa:

Tim Sherwood inspired a turnaround in Villa’s fortunes, culminating in the FA Cup final. They have been hurt badly with the loss of key men Christian Benteke and Fabian Delph. There will be a lot of pressure on Gabby Agbonlahor and new signing Jordan Ayew to provide the goals which could keep Aston Villa up. An area of weakness in recent years has been the defence, and despite the arrival of the versatile Micah Richards, once again the Aston Villa defence looks extremely weak going into the new season.  Sherwood will look to bring in another midfielder after the double departures of Cleverley and Delph, currently his options look thin with Idrissa Gueye, Carlos Sánchez and Ashley Westwood. Jack Grealish was a shining light for Aston Villa last season with his distinctive style, his ability to cope with the added pressure will be an important factor in his form and Villa’s form.

Key man: Gabby Agbonlahor – his speed and goals are what will win Villa matches.

Predicted finish: 16th.

Bournemouth:

Newly promoted, Eddie Howe’s men will deem survival as success. They are a side who are comfortable on the ball and use Swansea City as a template. Right-back Simon Francis and right-sided midfielder Matt Ritchie were in the Championship team of the season, and striker Callum Wilson scored 20 league goals  in the last campaign. Harry Arter chipped in with 8 goals from the centre of midfield and is considered to be their best player. Recruitment has seemingly been clever with the acquisitions of midfielders Christian Atsu and Joshua King adding speed to attacks, Sylvain Distin will bring experience to the backline, with Tyrone Mings adding size and power at left back. In goal, Arthur Boruc will bring proven Premier League experience. Bournemouth have a chance due to the hard working and analytically obsessive nature of manager Howe.

Key man: Harry Arter – can he continue his good form into the Premier League? A vital cog in the machine.

Predicted finish: 18th.

Chelsea:

The current champions. The team with the best defence and the standout player of the league in Eden Hazard. Chelsea have also added to the forward line with the loan signing of Radamel Falcao, who if he can reproduce his old form, will be a banker for Jose Mourinho. John Terry is one year older and it will be interesting to see if he can maintain his form from last season. Chelsea were lucky last season in that they did not suffer as many injuries as challengers. The squad of Chelsea looks thin, particularly in defence at left back. Whilst Chelsea’s first team has undoubted quality, there are question marks over squad players such as Juan Cuadrado and John Obi Mikel. In Mourinho, Chelsea have a man who knows how to win by any means. That is why they are the favourites to retain the crown.

Key man: Eden Hazard- if he reproduces his world class form from last season, Chelsea will win the league.

Predicted finish: 1st.

Crystal Palace:

Under Alan Pardew, there is huge amounts of optimism after the improved performances last season. This is perhaps the best squad ever in the history of Crystal Palace, particularly in midfield. Mile Jedinak provides the strength for the trio of players – Yohan Cabaye, Jordon Mutch and  Jason Puncheon to create and provide the energy going forward. Yannick Bolasie and Wilfried Zaha provide pace, skill and incision from the wings, with consistency now the aim. The forward line of  Glenn Murray, Dwight Gayle and Marouane Chamakh fired in bursts. A new striker will be the aim, though this trio should be helped with the greater creativity behind them provided by Cabaye. The first aim will be survival, but the final aim will be to finish in the top 10.

Key man– Yohan Cabaye- a wonderful midfield player who is as creative as any midfielder in the league.

Predicted finish: 10th.

Everton:

It was a disappointing campaign last season, with Everton hampered by the Europa League. They have the style of football to succeed but now they need the consistency. The summer acquisitions of Gerard Deulofeu and Tom Cleverley provide skill and creativity. It will be important to sort out the future of talented defender John Stones as soon as possible, to find a replacement if needed. The 2013-2014 season showed how dangerous this Everton team can be when on form, with Roberto Martinez tactically flexible and astute. They will be aiming for a top 8 finish with hopes of making the Europa League once again.

Key man: Romelu Lukaku- after a disappointing last season, his goals will be vital to Everton’s hopes.

Predicted finish: 7th. 

Leicester:

Leicester have lost 2 key men in Nigel Pearson and the legendary Esteban Cambiasso. It will be vital for Claudio Ranieri and Shinji Okazaki to fill those holes. Despite appearing as a distasteful character in the media, Pearson ensured he had the backing of his players and it was that team spirit which propelled Leicester to safety. Robert Huth will be a key man for Leicester in the 3 man defence which Ranieri seems intent on keeping. The arrival of Austria international Christian Fuchs has bolstered the defence, but Leicester still look extremely thin going forward despite the signing of Okazaki. Cambiasso’s creativity has not been replaced and Matty James will be out injured at least until the new year. Danny Drinkwater, Andy King and Dean Hammond are all good but none look capable of doing what Cambiasso did. The battle to survive will be tough.

Key man: Shinji Okazaki – can the new signing score goals to inspire Leicester’s survival?

Predicted finish: 17th.

Liverpool: 

The much talked about future of Raheem Sterling was resolved early on, and allowed Liverpool the financial capacity to sign Christian Benteke. He will provide goals, power and energy up front, and can work in tandem with Daniel Sturridge or as a lone striker. Liverpool’s area of weakness last season was the forward line, which has been bolstered by the arrival of Benteke and Roberto Firmino. The signing of Nathaniel Clyne boosts Liverpool at full back, a position which saw the likes of Sterling and Lazar Markovic playing in. The upturn in Simon Mignolet’s form was important to Liverpool in not signing a new goalkeeper, and it will be interesting to see if that pans out to be the correct decision.

Key man: Philippe Coutinho – he is a class player and will be vital in the supply to the forward line.

Predicted finish: 5th.

Manchester City:

Despite finishing second, it was a disappointing campaign for Man City who never looked like retaining the title. The arrival of Raheem Sterling should galvanise a team which looked lethargic at times last season. Manuel Pellegrini has employed a 4-3-3 system in pre-season which should give City more control and give Yaya Toure more of a license to roam forward with an extra midfielder protecting him. The burden of goals will once again be on the shoulders of Sergio Aguero whose main battle will be to stay fit for the entirety of the season. Vincent Kompany will also be hoping for an upturn in form after a season of errors and injury. Though City have the individual quality, it will be key for them to work as a team, something they did not do much of last season.

Key man: Sergio Aguero – one of the few world class strikers around, his goals can win trophies.

Predicted finish: 4th.

Manchester United:

Louis van Gaal achieved the minimum target of a top 4 finish last season, along with the implementation of his much talked about philosophy. He used last season to experiment with formations and players, but after the astute signings of Darmian, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Memphis and Morgan Schneiderlin, there is an expectation that Manchester United should be competing for the title this season. There are still gaps, notably at centre back and the lack of a viable forward should Wayne Rooney get injured. The future of David de Gea casts a dark shadow as he was the standout player for Man United last season, his future needs to be resolved quickly. The departure of Angel di Maria is a blow, as he has much needed speed and creativity, but it seems his individualistic brilliance did not fit into the team based philosophy of the manager.

Key man: Wayne Rooney – has the order to play up front, can he get 20+ goals and fire United to the title?

Predicted finish: 3rd

Newcastle:

A team and club in much turmoil over the last 3 years. The owner has been criticised for lack of investment and the appointment of Steve McClaren has not gone down well with many Newcastle fans. However, the purse strings have been loosened with almost £35m being invested so far on Georginio Wijnaldum, the Holland attacking midfielder who joins from PSV Eindhoven, Aleksandar Mitrovic, a young Serbia striker who proved so prolific for Anderlecht last season and Chancel Mbemba, a highly talented Congolese centre-half also recruited from Anderlecht. On paper, Newcastle have a good pool of players – as individuals. Yet so often in recent years, they have been criticised for a lack of mental strength and team work. If McClaren can bring the team as one, they will be dangerous.

Key man:  Georginio Wijnaldum- a man who can provide the ammunition for goals.

Predicted finish: 13th.

Norwich:

Alex Neil has been a fine manager for Norwich since taking over, but this may be one challenge too far. The group of players is very similar to the players who were responsible for relegation a few seasons back. The need for new signings and quality signings at that is huge. The full-back Andre Wisdom has come in from Liverpool on loan. Midfielder Youssouf Mulumbu looks a fine import from West Brom and the loan move of his more creative former Baggies team-mate Graham Dorrans has been made permanent. The left-sided midfielder, occasional full-back and set-piece genius Robbie Brady has joined from Hull City. They are all decent mid- to lower-end top-flight players but none who can be depended on for consistency. The lack of quality and goals up front means relegation is a near certainty for Norwich.

Key man: Youssouf Mulumbu – the only reliable player with proven premier league experience.

Predicted finish: 19th.

Southampton:

Many tipped Southampton to be relegated last season, but nobody will make the same mistake this season. After an outstanding campaign, despite falling away in the last few months, Southampton have the players and manager to continue in good form. The loss of 3 key players in Clyne, Schneiderlin and Toby Alderweireld is a big blow and the form of the replacements will be important in determining whether Southampton can finish in the top 8. The squad looks strong again with the signing of experience Dutch goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg on loan, Portuguese right-back Cédric Soares, Steven Caulker at centre back, Jordy Clasie in midfield and Juanmi in attack. The return to regular football for Jay Rodriguez will also be a big boost for Koeman.

Key man: Jordy Clasie – can he maintain the class of Schneiderlin?

Predicted finish: 11th

Stoke:

The old tag of Stoke as ‘long ball’ no longer rings true, with Mark Hughes assembling a team of fine footballers. Stoke have signed Ibrahim Afellay and Moha El Ouriachi ahead of this campaign. Bojan was wonderful until he was struck down by knee ligament damage in January. If either of the latest arrivals from Camp Nou have a similar impact, then Hughes will have pulled off another masterstroke. In midfield, the impressive Steven N’Zonzi needs to be replaced, with Marko van Ginkel being given that responsibility. Asmir Begovic will not be badly missed if Jack Butland does as well as expected, and Shay Given could serve as a reliable stand-in at times. This could be an impressive season for Stoke, once again.

Key man: Bojan – the little magician has the stardust which makes Stoke so watchable.

Predicted finish: 9th.

Sunderland:

Repeated underachievers, Dick Advocaat has lifted the mood at Sunderland. Advocaat has to bring in creativity, pace, power and hard work as all those elements have been missing from Sunderland’s game. The acquisition of Younès Kaboul from Tottenham Hotspur and Sebastián Coates from Liverpool will improve a slow and old defence. Jermain Lens should bring improved creativity, Yann M’Vila and Leroy Fer should also add much-needed physical presence and energy to the engine room. Looking forward, if Steven Fletcher and Jermain Defoe can be given sustained service, they will be bankers for goals, which should help to keep Sunderland up.

Key man: Yann M’Vila – comes with a big reputation and has the authority to guide Sunderland.

Predicted finish: 15th.

Swansea City:

Under Gary Monk, Swansea have confounded the doubters and progressed to the highest points tally in the club’s history. Can  Bafétimbi Gomis can step up to the role of being the frontline striker? He needs to add consistency and continue his form from the last 6 games of last season. Eder is another striker, from Braga and the star signing of André Ayew, the experienced Ghana international will lift spirits slightly dampened by Bony’s departure in January. Ayew is likely to be used out wide, but he is also able to play across any of the attacking positions. Franck Tabanou will bolster the left back spot. It will be key for Ki Sung Yeung, Jonjo Shelvey and Gylfi Sigurdsson to continue the great form they displayed last season.

Key man: Gylfi Sigurdsson- creativity with goals and assists – the team is built around him.

Predicted finish: 8th.

Tottenham Hotspur:

Mauricio Pochettino’s first season can be considered a success, but building on that will be a challenge he will relish. The signing of Toby Alderweireld from Atlético Madrid along with Kevin Wimmer and Kieran Trippier strengthened a weak defence which conceded too many sloppy goals last season.  Tottenham have shed plenty of their unwanted players and trimmed the squad fat– Younès Kaboul, Vlad Chiriches, Etienne Capoue, Benjamin Stambouli, Paulinho and Lewis Holtby. The squad still needs reinforcements up front with Soldado barely playing in pre-season, Adebayor not wanted and Harry Kane the only senior striker. There is much pressure on him to repeat his heroics from last season.

Key man: Harry Kane- his goals hold the key to progress.

Predicted finish: 6th.

Watford:

This team resembles nothing like the team which was promoted. Quique Sánchez Flores, the former Valencia manager is now in charge. Heurelho Gomes is the only player expected to start automatically from last season. The rest will most likely make up the squad. The Greece left-back José Holebas arrived from Roma, the centre-backs Sebastian Prödl, from Werder Bremen, and Miguel Britos,  followed, with the Cameroon right-back Allan Nyom joining from Udinese. The defensive midfield slots were filled by Valon Behrami, and Étienne Capoue, a club-record £6m arrival from Tottenham. José Jurado, who flourished under Sánchez Flores at Atlético, has been reunited with his former manager and AZ winger Steven Berghuis will also provide left footed delivery. Despite the massive activity in the market, it will take a big effort to get all of these players to join together as a unit.

Key man- Étienne Capoue – he has to justify his fee and rule the midfield.

Predicted finish: 20th.

West Brom:

Under Tony Pulis, there is no chance of relegation. However, the squad is looking quite thin. The recruitment has been good if not swift.  James McClean is a good signing, with wing play and hard work fitting into the Pulis thought. The signing of Rickie Lambert is also a smart move by Pulis. His side were far too reliant last season on the brilliance of Saido Berahino. James Chester is a shrewd move which will provide cover in defence thanks to his versatility. Pulis will want more players, particularly in goal, defence and to cover the forward line.

Key man: Saido Berahino/Rickie Lambert – goals are what will enable progress, these are the men to get them.

Predicted finish: 14th. 

West Ham United:

No Sam Allardyce brings its own risks, just ask Blackburn and Bolton. Appointing Slaven Bilic brings swagger, style and unpredictability – and that’s just the man. Preparations for the new season have not been ideal, with West Ham’s unexpected entry into Europe via the Fair Play League forcing them to start their season with a qualifier against the Andorran part-timers of FC Lusitans. However, they are no longer in Europe so the domestic campaign should not be affected. Enner Valencia’s long term injury is a blow, but the recruits brought in by Bilic, such as Payet must fire for West Ham to stay up before the big move to the Olympic Stadium. Andy Carroll’s return will also be pivotal, with his role in Bilic’s system yet to be seen.

Key man: Andy Carroll- his return and form upon return will go a long way to deciding West Ham’s future.

Predicted finish: 12th. 

In defence of Raheem Sterling

Raheem Sterling, a Manchester City player now…All rights are reserved for this image ©

By Manish Pandey.

Defending Raheem Sterling is not the most popular thing  in football right now. The words ‘greed’, ‘arrogant’ and ‘bench’ are the buzzwords when describing Sterling’s move to Manchester City. Yet, it seems Sterling having ambitions is somehow a tainted thing.

Loyalty is a much talked about notion in football. It adds to the romance that many of us see in football. But at the end of the day, Sterling is a professional footballer, he has to do what he believes is best for him and his career.

Could he have conducted himself better? Yes, of course, but why should he bother? In the cut throat tribal football industry, he would have been still seen as greedy and arrogant for moving to Manchester City, regardless of whether he would have publicly stated that we was ‘loving life at Liverpool’. His aim is to win trophies, and with the greatest of respect to Liverpool, he has a far superior chance of winning trophies at Manchester City.

Like most footballers, Sterling is a hard and cold individual when surrounded by football. That is no bad thing. It is the reason he is, where he is, at the top level of football. Sterling would have grown up with a number of young lads, trained with them and seen them suffer rejection when clubs and coaches deemed them not good enough.

Loyalty they call it. Most of the footballers playing at the top level have seen the loyalty that clubs show to young footballers. They have seen how quickly clubs can get rid of players on account of it being ‘best for business.’ Clubs have no emotional attachments, why should players?

We often talk about the amount of money footballers earn, looking at the cars, houses and holidays they have with considerable envy. We hardly ever talk about the hard work that footballers put in just to get to the top level.

Take Sterling as an example. Sterling lived a life away from home, uprooted and sent to live with family he did not know, away from his parents, instead lodging with people he calls his ‘house parents’. He moved to Liverpool from his North London estate at just 15.

Looking at the childhood Sterling had, it’s not hard to see why he is so keen to maximise his limited footballing shell life. He left Jamaica for England with his mother at the age of 5, without knowing his father who was murdered.

There are many stories around football about some young players who cannot make it to the top level because of the mental pressures. Players being punished for embarrassing senior players in training with skills, or players being forced to play whilst injured, or even homesickness playing a role in some youngsters being forced to give up the game.

Making it as a top level footballer, or even making it to the top level in any walk of life means you need to have a single track mindset, focused only on what needs to be done in order to succeed. Footballers have seen what will happen if they do not help themselves, they will be binned like the youngster they were training with aged 14.

Footballers are adored and praised for the performances they put on the pitch. Yet it is a selfish nature which has allowed them to perform at the highest level. The one goal they strive to achieve means they have developed a ruthless nature.

Sterling has no deep seated emotional bond to Liverpool. They served a purpose to him, giving him a chance to play football. In the same way for Liverpool, Sterling served a purpose. He was an asset, a commodity for which they were paid £35 million (with further £5 million in add ons and £9 million being given to QPR).

Of course fans who idolised Sterling can feel aggrieved, but the idea of a player forming some type of deep attachment to a football club is fantasy.

Instantly we had ex players and fans rushing to compare Sterling to some of the other English flops at Man City. The pictures of Sterling on a bench were rushed out. He has ruined his career were the calls in some quarters. Steven Gerrard rushed to point out his disappointment in Sterling. Sorry Steven, it’s not as though you ever rejected a contract offer to play in a team with more lucrative riches.

Sterling, in that now infamous BBC interview, said it was not about the money and hinted he would reject a contract offer from Liverpool whatever the wages, because his main aim was to win trophies. Did he believe Liverpool were progressing in the right way to winning trophies? Clearly not, considering they had just lost Luis Suarez and Steven Gerrard in consecutive summers.

Will he be financially better off with this move? Yes. Will his chances of winning trophies be higher? Yes. Will he be stuck on the bench? Most certainly not.

For all of his apparent ‘character flaws’, Sterling remains a shining light in English football. Paying close to £50 million means he will most certainly be starting week in and week out for Man City. He also has the qualities to be a world class talent. His game will only improve playing alongside the likes Sergio Aguero and David Silva. Manchester City have paid for potential, overpriced right now? Most certainly, but that is the added price for buying English.

Liverpool received a big sum. Manchester City received a player with lots of potential. Sterling got his desired move. Winners all around.

We should not feel sympathy for Sterling. But to direct so much vitriol towards him is uncalled for.

This is football, it’s business, not personal.