Monthly Archives: August 2013

The 6 Best Debuts Of The Opening Weekend

The opening round of fixtures was the bountiful fruit that starving football fans had been craving, and didn’t disappoint.

Robin van Persie was deadlier than a rattlesnake tie, the big teams were dominant, the small teams suffered, and Arsenal did a massive Arsenal.

But while we, the fans, were slipping on the familiar loafers of the Premier League, many of our entertainers were either doing it for the first time or doing it in a new colour. Let’s see who did best:

Kolo Toure – Liverpool

When Liverpool signed Toure on a free from Man City, there were little sniggers through the Prem world. Toure was old. Toure was banned for using a woman’s slimming medication. Toure couldn’t get a game for Man City. You know what this meant? It meant Toure was hungry (especially after those pills!)

‘I wonder if McDonalds’ advertising hoardings taste like a Big Mac..?’

Showing experience, eagerness, and raw power, the big Ivorian had a great game for Liverpool. He was in control at the back, willing to come forward like the Toure of old, and scary in the box. He was only the woodwork away from getting a debut goal.

In Toure, the man who has kept a clean sheet in around a third of all Prem games he’s been in (102/308) Liverpool have a great signing.

Simon Mignolet – Liverpool

Kolo Toure’s statistic would be one worse without the Belgian keeper’s heroics. He had a pretty flappy game for Liverpool; clearances into rushing attackers and weak claims on aerial balls would normally rule any player out of a list like this, and were probably less a sign of his ability and more a sign of the occasion.

But after Agger gave away a penalty after 87 minutes of dominance by Liverpool, the Kop must have feared a repeat that haunted them so many times last year was going to take place. But Mignolet was having none of it.

He saved well from Walters (who must be out of a job now), and then even better with his hip from Jones. The fans were ecstatic, and the players all mobbed him. Liverpool’s new number 1 had arrived.

Paulinho – Tottenham Hotspurs

I knew nothing of the Brazilian until I saw him playing in midfield during the Confederations Cup, and even then, wasn’t sure when Spurs began their pursuit of his ever rising price tag. His performance against Crystal Palace was controlled and measured though, and he looked instantly at ease.

To be fair, when have Brazilians not looked at ease?

Not necessarily your stereotypical flair Brazilian, more like Carrick with more energy, Paulinho played 58 passes with over 90% finding their mark. Passing hasn’t been Spur’s forte but with a midfielder who can get out of situations and keep a cool head, that could change.

Jesus Navas – Manchester City

Maybe this is a biased position in the list because I love this little winger. And I do mean winger.

I don’t mean slightly wide but endlessly coming inside (Robben), or faffing around on the ball (Lennon), or trying tricks when there is no need (Zaha). Nor do I mean blindly crossing from anywhere (Stoke), or driving crosses into defenders (Milner). No, Navas is – in Pellegrini’s words – “a winger winger”.

Lightening quick, careful with possession, but above all – a fantastic crosser. I say this position on the list may be tenuous because he didn’t get an assist, but his energy, creative wing play, and the ability to always keep himself open mean he is going to be torturous for defenders this season.

Kevin De Bruyne – Chelsea

The Belgian 22 year old looked good 2-3 years ago so it was no surprise when Chelsea bought him. It was a surprise when Chelsea loaned him out to Werder Bremen where many fans forgot about him. And after amassing what could well be the Prem’s best midfield last season, I thought De Bruyne’s days were numbered but I was proved wrong when an injury to Mata meant he started against Hull.

And what a start. He’s the kind of player teams outside the top six (and maybe within it) dream about. Skillful, confident, with technique and vision that betray his age, he could’ve had much more than the one assist he picked up. Chelsea’s great midfield just got greater.

Antonio Luna – Aston Villa

A lot of things were remarkable about Villa’s win over Arsenal (mainly Arsenal’s defending) but there’s one moment I enjoyed more than any other.

At 22 years of age, in a new league, against a superior team, and trained as a left back – going through on goal on the halfway line is not something you’d expect, nor be prepared for.

So you run it and wait for the option right? Well what if the option doesn’t arrive? Well you forget everything about yourself and you slot it away like a 35 year old Brazilian striker in a charity game, obviously.

He gives him the eyes! He also had around a 94% pass completion rate. Definitely the best debut and more than Villa could have asked of him.

Some Players That Just Missed Out

Fernandinho (game was too easy to give him too much credit), Roberto Saldado (played as well as expected but nothing more), Ricky van Wolfswinkel (scored but only had 12 touches of the ball in 90mins), Andre Schurrle (didn’t play long enough but looked dangerous), Iago Aspas (linked well with the Red’s attack but didn’t quite do enough).

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9 Predictions For The 2013/14 Season

You know what the Telegraph did? They produced their 20 page ‘Total Football’ supplement, featuring predictions for the season, and forgot to ask me! They even asked Dwight Yorke!

Because the guy just commands respect…

Well don’t worry Telegraph editors, I know you didn’t mean it and to help you out here’s my predictions…

…now all I gotta do is stick them in every edition…

Premier League Champions Will Be – Chelsea

Man United will wobble; no strengthening of the squad currently, and despite the players being a good unit, it was Fergie that really made a decent team a championship winning team. Man City are an unknown quantity; Pellegrini is new to the EPL and so are many of their new players. Chelsea don’t have these issues though. Their team is strong and balanced (bar the striker position) and their manager has stepped back in with the snugness of a well-worn glove. If they get Rooney it’s a definite.

And The Other Three Will Be – Man City, Man United, and Arsenal

City are still far too strong to finish anywhere but second and despite being wobblier than a pensioner on a skateboard, it’s inconceivable to me that United won’t finish in the top four. I mean, can you actually picture Manchester United finishing 6th? It’s madness. Arsenal to round out the pack after everyone slates Wenger for not spending tens of millions, the team not getting off to a good start, and him wearing an even bigger coat.

The Human Wengerpede

The Three Relegated Teams Will Be – Crystal Palace, Cardiff City, The Hull City Tigers™

I have my doubts about Sunderland. And Newcastle were appalling last season, as were Aston Villa. But looking at the teams of the newly promoted sides I can see nothing by relegation. Hull might battle with 17th but the other two will seriously struggle.

The Player Of The Year Will Be – Juan Mata

This is still running along the theory of Chelsea winning the league. Mata is an incredible player who has a hand in most good things that the Blues do, and his vision, passing, finishing, and ethic made him a serious contender for the award last season. Usually it goes to a scorer though so RVP will probably press him.

The Young Player Of The Year Will Be – Christian Benteke

Absolutely robbed last season, the Belgian 22 year old had a stunning season for Villa banging in 23 goals in 39 apps in two competitions. Villa were shocking last season and he pretty much singlehandedly saved them from relegation. If he can do the same thing again, it’s his.

The First Sacking Will Be – Martin Jol

Now this may seem odd considering that yesterday, I wrote about how well Fulham have done in the window so far, and everything in my mind is screaming Monsieur Alain Pardeux will be the first to go. But how many times have you seen a change of manager accompany a change of owner? As discussed yesterday, the new owner hasn’t really spent much money through Jol, maybe that’s because he’s waiting for his ideal coach to take over…

Souness. Because Khan loves moustaches so much

The Top Scorer Will Be – Edin Dzeko

Nearly impossible to pick between the ‘big boys’ of RVP, Aguero, Suarez, and this fellow. RVP has the law of doubt against him, as in, I doubt he can do it for another season in a row, Suarez will miss the first six games and will then take a while to get back in the swing. And Aguero just misses out to Dzeko for me.

He’s not everyone’s cup of tea and he didn’t look stunning last season, but he’s been on fire in pre-season and Pellegrini seems to favour him up front. No Chelsea player in with a shout due to them sharing the goals out because: Torres.

The Champions League Winners Will Be – Bayern Munich

No one has ever defended their CL title since the competition was created, but wouldn’t it just be like Guardiola to break that record? Although he failed to do so at Barca, Munich’s team looks as strong and deep, as it does unbeatable. How do you improve on perfection? You get Guardiola in.

The Europa League Winners Will Be – Fiorentina

I’ve avoided the route of picking a drop-out from the CL as the winners because that’s cheating and they should never have made the rule. I wanted to say Tottenham because on paper – it’s theirs. But Spurs have a knack of never looking at that paper. Fiorentina had a good season last year and the signing of Mario Gomez swung it for me.

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3 Clubs That Have Had A Great Transfer Window

Summer sucks. Sunny weather, days on the beach, cider at the pub, and ice lollies can go to hell. Because, while everyone else is frolicking in their flip-flops the big football fans are battling starvation.

Tuning in to Chinese league games at 3am, watching games from the 90s on ESPN Classic, and generally rocking with a blanket round you in a dark room like a recovering crack addict become regular summer activities.

But, bar occasional international football, there is one saving grace during these dark, sunny days – the transfer window.

Now formally renamed the Bale-Suarez Gossip Window of Bullshit, it gives football fans small morsels to feed on while the hard-working players take a few months in Barbados. Maybe the big boys have their eye on your superstar while your chairman thrusts various contracts at him, maybe the fans are praying they can keep their highest paid player another season, or even praying he’ll leave – whatever your team is, there’ll be activity.

But this isn’t all good for you. Maybe you’ll do a Dalglish’s Liverpool and waste tens of millions on floppity floppers, perhaps you’ll do an Arsenal and just trade children like Ugandan warlords rather than dipping into the bank, you might even do a Steve Bruce’s Sunderland and attempt to amass all the worst defenders in one team.

What? And you didn’t do well?

But maybe, just maybe, your chairman will loosen the purse strings, the manager won’t get distracted by hype players, and you’ll have a great window… like these clubs:

Disclaimer: I’m not bothering to mention Chelsea or City because, with their endless pots of gold they always have the ability to have a great window, I’m looking more at teams that have achieved value for money, or made shrewd signings, rather than launched rockets of cash at international players. Also, I’m not counting loans as proper transfers because I don’t want to. So there.

Liverpool – In: Luis Alberto, Iago Aspas, Simon Mignolet, Kolo Toure | Out: Andy Carroll, Stewart Downing, Jamie Carragher, Jay Spearing, Jonjo Shelvey

For Liverpool, the most important column is the outgoings. Firstly they are getting rid of two criminal dumplings in the shape of Carroll and Downing in what is shaping up to be an enormous gamble by Big Sam. Secondly, there is no Luis Suarez in there which is a massive boost to the Red’s hopes of 4th place.

Obviously the blow of Carra’s retirement will sting Liverpool for years but in Toure they have got themselves a physical, fit, and hungry player for free. He will be raring for a starting spot and when he’s at his best he can be a great asset.

Alberto is a ‘one for the future’ signing but Aspas as has already made a huge impact in Liverpool’s pre-season with a great return of goals and assists. Suarez may be battling for a place when he returns from his biting ban.

Pepe Reina going to join Benitez at Napoli for at least a season raised some eyebrows, but any grounded Liverpool fan knows that Reina hasn’t been his best for a year or two now, and in Mignolet, they have a reliable replacement. Plus it’s fashionable to have a Belgian.

Fulham – In: Fernando Amorebieta, Sascha Riether, Maarten Stekelenburg, Derek Boateng | Out: Chris Baird, Simon Davies, Mark Schwarzer, Giorgos Karagounis

The most surprising thing about Fulham’s transfers is that the big ones all happened before Shahid Khan’s takeover of the club. In fact, the new owner hasn’t made any great strides toward any marquee signings yet.

but on the other hand: giant moustaches

But on the other hand: giant moustaches

Letting the venerable keeper Schwarzer go might have seemed odd at the time (and his signing by Chelsea) but replacing him with Dutch stopper Stekelenburg is a great move. The former Ajax and Roma player is experienced and even reached the World Cup final in 2010.

Their first big swoop was the free transfer of Amorebieta from Athletico Bilbao. He will almost certainly add solidarity to their defence and possession. With over 250 games for the Spanish team, he is another experienced player without being old. Expect to see him beginning moves from the back.

Rounding out the pack of players I actually know is the signing of Riether from Cologne. The right-back thoroughly impressed me last season on his loan spell at the club; he was positionally responsible, energetic, and exciting out wide. Add in Hangeland and Riise and the Cottagers have themselves a fine defence.

They’ve also got Adel Taarabt on loan for the season which is like being given a chocolate bar covered in hair. It could be good but you’ve gotta change it first.

Heading out is three experienced players in Baird, Davies, and Karagounis but they were all old so it’s okay.

Norwich – In: Ricky van Wolfswinkel, Gary Hooper, Nathan Redmond, Javier Garrido, Leroy Fer, Martin Olsson | Out: Grant Holt, Simeon Jackson, Elliot Ward

The Canary’s transfer window so far has been outstanding. It could serve as a template for so many teams looking to strengthen without rapid investment. It is the masterclass in a discerning eye on a budget. You won’t find any over-hyped, over-paid potential flops here.

...Unless you count Becchio's hair

…Unless you count Becchio’s hair

Firstly Norwich fans had to wipe away the tears as club hero Holty left for Wigan, but they were not left in despair as the Ricky ‘The Wolfman’ van Wolfswinkel joined from a deal that began back in March.

I’m not entirely sure, without disrespecting the Norfolk team, how they managed to muster £8.5m for the Sporting Lisbon striker, let alone beat other rivals to him, but it’s a quality signing. He’s a tall player with more to his game than height and could unlock defenses that Norwich struggled with last season.

Adding to this firepower is another sought after striker in Celtic’s Gary Hooper. Coming off the back of 63 goals in 95 games for the Scottish outfit, Hooper will provide the tenacity to van Wolfswinkel’s technique, and if they click, it could be great news for the Yellows.

Unlike some managers with a bit of money to spend, Hughton didn’t just focus on attack (cough Mark Hughes). Bolstering the back line is another great capture in former Man City and Lazio man Garrido. He had an impressive last season with Norwich and making the move permanent made a lot of sense. Joining him is Blackburn’s Olsson, a player with Prem experience to provide cover for Garrido or play on the left of midfield.

Adding to the middle of the team is Dutch international 23 year old Leroy Fer. Nicknamed ‘The Bouncer’, the former Twente player will provide strength in midfield and a threat in the air from set-pieces. Out wide in midfield is 19 year old Nathan Redmond – a winger with a bright future who recently broke into the England U-21 team.

Bar losing Grant Holt (who let’s face it, was getting on a bit) Norwich haven’t had to sacrifice much to get these players which is the other half of having a great transfer window. If everything works, the Canaries could be looking higher up the table than ever before.

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